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Dec 28th, 2009

U.S. Widens Terror War to Yemen, a Qaeda Bastion

Covert war front quietly opened

Yemenis protest in the Radfan district of Lahj on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009 against a government raid that targeted suspected al-Qaida members. (Photo credit: AFP — Getty Images)

By Eric Schmitt and Robert F. Worth

December 28, 2009


WASHINGTON — In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen.

A year ago, the Central Intelligence Agency sent several of its top field operatives with counterterrorism experience to the country, according a former top agency official. At the same time, some of the most secretive Special Operations commandos have begun training Yemeni security forces in counterterrorism tactics, senior military officers said.

The Pentagon is spending more than $70 million over the next 18 months, and using teams of Special Forces, to train and equip Yemeni military, Interior Ministry and coast guard forces, more than doubling previous military aid levels.

As American investigators sought to corroborate the claims of a 23-year-old Nigerian man that Qaeda leaders in Yemen had trained and equipped him to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines jet on Christmas Day, the plot casts a spotlight on the Obama administration’s complicated relationship with Yemen.

The country has long been a refuge for jihadists, in part because Yemen’s government welcomed returning Islamist fighters who had fought in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The Yemen port of Aden was the site of the audacious bombing of the American destroyer Cole in October 2000 by Qaeda militants, which killed 17 sailors. …

The White House is seeking to nurture enduring ties with the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and prod him to combat the local Qaeda affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, even as his impoverished country grapples with seemingly intractable internal turmoil.

With fears also growing of a resurgent Islamist extremism in nearby Somalia and East Africa, administration officials and American lawmakers said Yemen could become Al Qaeda’s next operational and training hub, rivaling the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan where the organization’s top leaders operate. …

American and Yemeni officials said that a pivotal point in the relationship was reached in late summer after separate secret visits to Yemen by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American regional commander, and John O. Brennan, President Obama‘s counterterrorism adviser. …

Yemen’s remote areas are notoriously lawless, but the country’s chaos has worsened in the past two years, as the government struggles with an armed rebellion in the northwest and a rising secessionist movement in the south. Yemen is running out of oil, and the government’s dwindling finances have affected its ability to strike at Al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, there have been increasing Yemeni ties to plots against the United States. A Muslim man charged in the June 1 killing of a soldier at a recruiting center in a mall in Little Rock, Ark., had traveled to Yemen, prompting a review by the F.B.I. of other domestic extremists who had visited the country.

A radical cleric in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, has been linked to numerous terrorism suspects, including Nidal Malik Hasan, the American Army major who faces murder charges in the shooting deaths of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November.

In the latest issue of Sada al-Malahim, the Internet magazine of the Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, the group’s leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, urged his followers to use small bombs “in airports in the western crusade countries that participated in the war against Muslims; or on their planes, or in their residential complexes or their subways.”

Yemen escalated its campaign against Al Qaeda with major airstrikes on Dec. 17 and last Thursday [Dec. 24] that killed more than 60 militants. …

The airstrikes of the past two weeks have been successful but have come at a price, Yemeni officials said. “They have been hit hard, but they have not yet been disabled,” said one high-ranking Yemeni official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic issues involved. “The problem is that the involvement of the United States creates sympathy for Al Qaeda. The cooperation is necessary — but there is no doubt that it has an effect for the common man. He sympathizes with Al Qaeda.”

As if to reaffirm that message, Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate released a statement to Internet sites on Sunday that put strong emphasis on the American role in the recent raids, deriding the Yemeni government for claiming responsibility.


1/31/2010 Update

U.S. Citizen in CIA’s Cross Hairs

Anwar al Awlaki
This Oct. 2008 file photo shows Imam Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. The cleric, who was born in New Mexico, has been linked to recent terrorism cases. (Photo credit: Associated Press / Los Angeles Times)

By Greg Miller
The Washington Post
January 31, 2010

The agency builds a case for putting Anwar al Awlaki, linked to the Ft. Hood shootings and Christmas bomb attempt, on its hit list. The complications involved are a window into a secretive process.

Full story


5/23/2010 Update

Yemeni Cleric Advocates Killing U.S. Civilians

By Maamoun Youssef

May 23, 2010

CAIRO — An American-Yemeni cleric whose Internet sermons are believed to have helped inspire attacks on the U.S. has advocated the killing of American civilians in an al-Qaida video released Sunday.

Anwar al-Awlaki has been singled out by U.S. officials as a key terrorist threat and has been added to the CIA’s list of targets for assassination despite his American citizenship. He is of particular concern because he is one of the few English-speaking radical clerics able to explain to young Muslims in America and other Western countries the philosophy of violent jihad.

The U.S.-born al-Awlaki moved to Yemen in 2004 and is in hiding there after being linked to the suspects in the November shooting at an Army base in Fort Hood, Texas, and the December attempt to blow up a U.S. jetliner bound for Detroit.

“Those who might be killed in a plane are merely a drop of water in a sea,” he said in the video in response to a question about Muslim groups that disapproved of the airliner plot because it targeted civilians.

Al-Awlaki used the 45-minute video to justify civilian deaths — and encourage them — by accusing the United States of intentionally killing a million Muslim civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

American civilians are to blame, he said, because “the American people, in general, are taking part in this and they elected this administration and they are financing the war.” …

In the months before the Fort Hood shooting, which killed 13 people, al-Awlaki exchanged e-mails with the alleged attacker, U.S. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. Hasan initiated the contacts, drawn by al-Awlaki’s Internet sermons, and approached him for religious advice.

Yemen’s government says al-Awlaki is also suspected of contacts with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused in the failed attempt to blow up the Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day. Abdulmutallab traveled to Yemen late last year, and U.S. investigators say he told them that he received training and his bomb from Yemen’s al-Qaida offshoot.

In Sunday’s video, al-Awlaki praised both men and referred to them as his “students.” …

Al-Awlaki was born in 1971 in New Mexico. His father, Nasser al-Awlaki, was in the United States studying agriculture at the time and later returned with his family to Yemen to serve as agriculture minister. The father remains a prominent figure in Yemen, teaching at San’a University in the capital.

The younger al-Awlaki returned to the United States in 1991 to study civil engineering at Colorado State University, then education at San Diego State University, followed by doctoral work at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

He was also a preacher at mosques in California and Virginia before returning to Yemen in 2004.

“We have had more freedom in America than in any Muslim country,” he said in Sunday’s video. “But when America started to feel the danger of Islam’s message, it tightened limits on freedom, and after 9/11 it was impossible to live in America as a Muslim.” …

Accusing al-Awlaki of involvement in planning and operations by al-Qaida, the Obama administration placed him on a target list of terrorists to be killed or captured, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said last week. …


Related report on this site

American-Born Terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki Killed in Yemen (Oct. 2, 2011)

Image: Anwar al-Awlaki
U.S.-born Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki, who has called on Muslims to kill American civilians. (Photo credit: Associated Press / Los Angeles Times)


6/17/2015 Update

Nasser al-Wuhayshi: US drone strike kills Al Qaeda leader in Yemen (Christian Science Monitor, June 16, 2015) — The killing of Nasser al-Wuhayshi is described as the most significant setback to Al Qaeda since the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. But counterterrorism officials warn that the group’s threat remains potent. … Full report



Bomber Kills 30 at Holy Procession in Pakistan

Image: An angry mob charges towards police after setting ablaze shops and vehicles in Karachi
Athar Hussain / Reuters

Reuters and The Associated Press via MSNBC
December 28, 2009

KARACHI — A suicide bombing targeting a Shiite Muslim procession in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi killed 30 people and wounded dozens more Monday, as Shiites across the country marked the key holy day of Ashoura.

Violence broke out in the aftermath of the bombing, with shots fired into the air and outraged Shiites hurling stones at security forces who had been guarding the march for their failure to prevent it.

The bombing was the latest in a wave of violence to hit Pakistan since the army started taking on Islamist militants allied with al-Qaida and the Taliban, with terrorist strikes killing 500 people since October. …

Full story


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — December 28, 2008

Image: Afghans holding weapons
This image taken from television footage June 26, 2008, reportedly shows Afghan militants holding weapons next to the burning wreckage of a vehicle in Wardak province, Afghanistan. (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

Taliban Power Growing

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that the Taliban, which had long operated its own shadow government in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, had begun spreading north, encroaching on the capital city of Kabul.

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