Analysis Brief

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Growing Terrorism Threat, Postmarked Yemen

Author: Deborah Jerome, Deputy Editor
November 1, 2010


As investigators worldwide analyzed forensics from two bombs en route from Yemen to two Chicago synagogues on Friday (NYT), U.S. officials said they believe that Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was likely the source. It would mark the second time in less than a year the group has attempted an airborne attack. The 2009 Christmas Day effort by Nigerian-born, Yemen-trained suicide bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a Detroit-bound plane was also traced to AQAP. Both incidents, and the summer 2009 suicide bomb that nearly killed Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief Mohammed Bin Nayef are thought to be linked to U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (Telegraph), a senior al-Qaeda leader, and the handiwork of twenty-eight-year-old Yemen-based bombmaker Ibrahim Hassan Al-Asiri (BBC). Al-Awlaki has also been linked to the Times Square bomb incident in May 2010, and the October 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas.

The aborted plot last week raised questions about cargo security. Both bombs were rigged inside computer printers shipped from Yemen and discovered in Britain and Dubai. U.S. counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said U.S.-bound cargo shipments from Yemen were being suspended (WSJ) due to concern that more devices might be in the cargo pipeline. Other experts warned that air-freight cargo is not well-screened (CSMonitor), and that al-Qaeda could be looking to exploit weaknesses in that system. " There is no requirement for systematic screening of cargo sent on cargo planes" (ABC), only on passenger planes, said Stephen E. Flynn, president of the Center for National Policy and a member of the government's bipartisan National Security Preparedness Group.

Increasing cooperation by Saudi intelligence (NYT)--which has developed powerful surveillance tools and an extensive informer network--was considered crucial to unveiling the plot. The Saudis recently warned of a possible terrorist attack in France by AQAP and have also been instrumental in identifying terrorists in Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Kuwait. Along with the United States, Saudi Arabia is concerned about the threat from AQAP (Reuters), which wants to eliminate the ruling Al Saud family.

Both Saudi Arabia and the United States have increased military and logistical aid to Yemen, which has increasingly emerged as a terrorism incubator (ArabNews) and is thought to be home to several hundred AQAP members (Carnegie Endowment). Ten years ago, the USS Cole was hit by a suicide attack in Yemen's Port of Aden, killing seventeen sailors; a suicide attack on the U.S. embassy in Sana'a two years ago killed sixteen. Experts attribute the rise of terrorism in Yemen to a host of problems, from acute shortages of oil and water, to a corrupt ruling regime, to extreme poverty and civil war. The United States has sent fifty military experts to Yemen to train counterterrorism forces and has given Yemen $150 million in military assistance, as well as funding for humanitarian causes.  So far, these seem to have had little impact on curbing the growth of terrorism in the country, causing one expert to say, "Yemen is the new Afghanistan" (Independent).

More Analysis:

Saudi Arabia is the key to halting the growth of AQAP, writes Victoria Clark in the Guardian.

The United States needs to spend more time analyzing and undermining the solidarity that terrorist groups enjoy with local power groups and societies outside state control, says CFR's Stewart Patrick. It should encourage weak state governments to deliver more public goods to territories where they have a minimal presence.

The United States has been unable to find an adequate response to the AQAP threat, writes Gregory D. Johnsen on

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