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US Concerned about Al-Qaida's Yemen Branch

The State Department says the U.S. still maintains a presence in Yemen, after ordering nonessential personnel at the U.S. Embassy to leave the country due to the "extremely high" potential of a terror attack. Nineteen U.S. embassies and consulates will remain closed through Saturday.
As non-emergency staff quietly left the country, a suspected U.S. drone snuck in, killing four alleged members of al-Qaida.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has thrived in Yemen for years. The United States calls AQAP the most active and dangerous group plotting against America, as reaffirmed by State Department Spokeswoman Jan Psaki.
“The fact that they continue to pose a serious threat to the United States and its interests, we consider this to be one of the foremost national security challenges we face,” she remarked.
Yemen is said to be the poorest Arab country and it suffers from political instability.
The instability breeds terrorists, according to former ambassador James Jeffrey, now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“They operate in areas where you do not have the best of border controls. They operate in areas where you don’t have the best of modern security forces plugged into Interpol and international intelligence channels.”
In a region where attacks can sometimes be as frequent as the morning call to prayer, terror groups aim high.
“The only propaganda that really counts in the Middle East is when you take down an embassy," noted Jeffrey. "When you sink or almost sink a ship or when you otherwise show America is weak and vulnerable.”
But the U.S. and its allies know that even though terror groups plan big attacks, these attacks can be foiled. James Carafano, with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said terrorists depend on predictability.
“They want to know how many guards, they want to know what time they change, they want to know what the traffic patterns are like," Carafano explained, "they want to know what people are doing that day. So, when you make an announcement, oh we’re closing things or ramping up security, you have changed the conditions.”
State Department officials say Yemen continues to work closely with the United States to fight terror groups like AQAP. Secretary John Kerry has spoken with Yemen’s president to thank him for his efforts during this latest threat. But it is still unclear when the departed staff will return and when the embassy will reopen.
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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.