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Yemen's Deputy PM Links Nigerian Terrorist Suspect to al-Qaida

Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister, Rashad al-Alimi
Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister, Rashad al-Alimi

The recent failed bombing attempt of a U.S. airliner bound for Detroit creates new concerns in Washington about the al-Qaida terrorist group in Yemen.

Yemen is a new focus of concern in the fight against al-Qaida linked terrorists following the failed attempt to blow up a U.S. bound airliner on Christmas day.

The lone suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria, allegedly received training and explosives in Yemen. And Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister, Rashad al-Alimi, says Abdulmutallab met there with a radical U.S.-born Muslim cleric.

"There is no doubt that the Nigerian Abdulmutallab, met with elements from al-Qaida in Shabwa province and in particular he met with [Yemeni radical cleric] Anwar al- Awlaki," said Rashad al-Alimi.

The U.S. is responding by increasing counterterrorism aid to Yemen. John Brennan is Obama administration's top counterterrorism adviser.

"We've provided equipment, training; we're cooperating very closely," said John Brennan. "So this is something that we've known about for a while but we're determined to destroy al-Qaida whether it's in Pakistan, Afghanistan or in Yemen and we will get there."

John Brennan
John Brennan

Al-Qaida's presence in Yemen is not a new development, says James Phillips at the Heritage Foundation.

"Actually, it is an old theater that is now growing in stature in part because al-Qaida has been driven out to a large degree from Saudi Arabia and it has regrouped in Yemen, but also because the al-Qaida core group is under tremendous pressure in Pakistan," said James Phillips.

James Phillips
James Phillips

And Phillips says Yemen may gain more importance if al-Qaida shifts its base of operations from Pakistan to the Middle East and Africa.

"Because it is an Arab-led organization, in many respects it may find it easier to blend in and hide in corners of the Arab world such as the Yemeni mountains which really are not controlled by any government," he said.

Peter Beinart at the New American Foundation disagrees. He says it will be difficult for al-Qaida to replicate its relationship with Pakistani tribes.

"There is a web of relationships that al-Qaida built up in the Pakistani tribal regions over a very long period of time," Peter Beinart said. "Important people of al-Qaida married into those tribes. So this is not the kind of thing you could replicate...."

Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart

Phillips says al-Qaida is already threatening countries beyond Yemen's borders.

"The U.S. needs to cooperate closely not only with the Yemeni government, but with the Saudi [Arabian] government, with the Omani government and with other interested governments that are threatened by these Islamist terrorists that have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims," he said.

Beinart says the increasing al-Qaida activity in Yemen could also be ploy by the terrorist group to force the U.S. to deflect its resources from the Pakisan-Afghanistan region where the terrorist group now is under pressure.

"An overreaction, which produces much more hostility towards the United States, is precisely what the Jihadist terrorists want," said Beinart.

Analysts both in Washington and Yemen say the U.S. should be cautious because widespread poverty, corruption and conflict in Yemen means an ideal ground for al-Qaida to recruit.