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Danger to West Increases From Al-Qaida Threat in Yemen

  • Meredith Buel

Despite a recent political transition in Yemen, analysts say al-Qaida-related militant groups are mounting a major threat to the government. The continuing chaos in Yemen, analysts say, is increasing the danger of al-Qaida attacks against Western targets.

Video obtained from al-Qaida-linked militants in Yemen shows missile launchers, automatic weapons, heavy ammunition and vehicles with machine guns. All, they say, were captured from the Yemeni Army in March during an assault that killed more than 100 government soldiers.

“Today, thank God, the brothers stormed an artillery and katyusha [rocket] brigade and, thank God, the brothers took complete control of the site, and seized six katyusha [rocket] launchers, six cannons and four tanks,” said Jalal Baledi, a leader of Ansar al-Sharia, an offshoot of al-Qaida.

The U.S. military has helped train Yemeni troops to fight terrorists who are members of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

But analysts say they face an ever growing insurgency, especially in the southern part of the country.

“The fear is that that has a demoralizing effect on troops, especially if they are feeling that the military itself is not as centered around the al-Qaida fight as it is around the political drama that has been going on in Sana'a, the capital,” said Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute.

Yemen has been in chaos since last year, when anti-government protests forced longtime autocratic ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign as president.

His deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, took over in February and vowed to continue the battle against terrorists.

“Continuing the fighting against al-Qaida is a national and religious duty, which will make the displaced people in Abyan return to their homes,” Hadi said.

In southern Abyan Province, thousands have fled the fighting to camps in the port city of Aden, where littered streets and closed shops are signs of a crippled economy.

Fear of al-Qaida is keeping people like Salim Nasar from going home.

“I want to return home all the time, but now Abyan is very dangerous as it is in the control of many militants," Nasar said.

Analysts worry the tide may be turning in favor of al-Qaida.

“And whether or not Yemen will be able to gain the upper hand on the AQAP still remains to be seen. It is going to definitely be an incredible challenge considering the political turmoil the country faces," said The Jamestown Foundation’s Jeb Boone.

In recent years the Yemen-based al-Qaida group has successfully placed bombs on three airliners headed to the United States.

Analysts say the more success the militants have in Yemen, the more dangerous they are to the West.

“If AQAP were to turn and focus again on conducting these transnational attacks they would have a better foundation from which to do that in Yemen and that there is the threat," Zimmerman said.

And that foundation appears to be growing.

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