July 2nd, 2011
04:22 PM ET

The growing threat of al Qaeda in Yemen

By Nic Robertson, CNN Sr. International Correspondent

In an exclusive interview Wednesday, Yemen’s Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansoor Hadi told me security in his country is “deteriorating.” He said in many of those provinces the government is battling al Qaeda who have gone on the offensive as the government battles calls for its ouster.

Hadi told me five provinces had fallen beyond the government’s control. That sounds alarming, but one Western diplomat in the capital believes it is actually optimistic. “I think it’s more than five,” the diplomat said. 

Nowhere is the instability more obvious than Zinjabar, capital of Abyan province in the south. Not far from Yemen’s second city – the port of Aden – Zinjibar looks out on some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda took control of the city more than a month ago and in just the last few days their fighters attacked a stadium housing government troops just outside the city More than 30 soldiers were killed before the government says it regained the upper hand.

Such battles are stoking fears among Western diplomats and counter-terrorism officials that al Qaeda is taking advantage of Yemen’s instability.  One Western diplomat says: “We are very concerned about the situation in Abayan and Zinjabar ... This is a different strategy that we haven’t seen from them before, where they actually try to take territory in their own name, hold it, try to govern it.”

Among some well-informed Westerners in Yemen, there is a fear that the loss of Abyan is only the beginning – and that al Qaeda is trying to encircle Aden – less than 100 kilometers away. In 2000 an al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole while it was moored in Aden killed 17 US sailors.

Concern is even growing that al Qaeda might even try to move in to Aden,  following a rare suicide car bombing there the government was quick to blame on al Qaeda.

In an indication of just how serious the situation has become Yemen’s defense minister is in Aden trying to hold back al Qaeda’s advance and deal with the influx of displaced people fleeing the fighting in nearby Abyan. UN agencies say more than 40,000 people have been displaced by the unrest in the south.

According to the diplomat, the stakes are high, and the government must beat back the challenge from al Qaeda – and fast. “I think the answer is if you do it now it’s do-able. If you fail now and they have an opportunity to dig in and establish themselves it will be harder.”

Yemen’s Vice President has been heard to lament that al Qaeda fighters are willing to die, implying his own forces are less willing to lay down their lives in battle.

That said, the diplomat we spoke to does think the army is doing better than expected. “They have done a better job than anyone anticipated in terms of hanging on."

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, is the most operationally active of all of al Qaeda’s franchises. It was a bomb-maker here who made the ‘underpants bomb’ used to try to bring a plane down over Detroit Christmas 2009. Western counter-terrorism officials say the same bomber, Ibrahim al-Asiri, designed the – printer package bombs shipped to the U.S. as cargo last year.

The diplomat believes al-Asiri is still making bombs but may not be directly involved in the fighting with Yemeni government forces.
 “It’s a big question,” he says, “and I think the sense is that these people who are involved in these external operations are not the same as the guys down in Abyan.”

But he believes al-Asiri is still active and “he’s always looking for new ideas.”
The diplomat put it this way. “I would not say that every single person that joins the fight down there is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula but there is no doubt in our minds I think that AQAP is directing this and that you have a number of senior AQAP figures who are involved in this operation.”

Yemen’s vice president told me U.S. unmanned drone aircraft are helping target al Qaeda activists, pinpointing their locations using voice recognition software. But he said the lion’s share of the fight was in Yemeni hands.

In May, both U.S. and Yemeni officials confirmed a U.S. drone strike against the U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar Awlaki while he was driving in a convoy somewhere in southern Yemen. He narrowly escaped.

Some in Yemen’s opposition have sought to characterize al Qaeda’s strength here as a figment of injured President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s imagination, something he used to bolster his support from the West.

Now, according to the diplomat, Yemenis they are beginning to realize how bad the al Qaeda problem has become.

“When we talk to the opposition, when we tell them what our concerns are generally they share our concerns and they have a similar objective to the role that we are trying to play to push al Qaeda out,” the diplomat said.

Of growing concern here is the desperate state of Yemen’s economy. Observers fear it is pushing young people who had taken to the streets demanding democratic change toward militias, in some cases even groups influenced by al Qaeda, to get cash and an identity.

It has become a multi-faceted crisis – and there is no indication of a dynamic government response to the challenge posed by al Qaeda. Political paralysis in the capital keeps large chunks of the military that are still loyal to the government far from the battlefield in an edgy stand-off with army brigades and militia that have joined the opposition.

All the while al Qaeda and other Islamist militants are consolidating their grip in the south.

Filed under: Al Qaeda • Yemen
soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Death Mercury

    40,000 displaced people? Or a large portion of that population could be drafted to defend themselves and their territories from terrorism. Arm and train the people. Ask the Ministry of Oil and Minerals why they can't train the 25% of poor in the country in the art of liberating themselves through the use of brute force. MOM can certainly allow foreign oil to chop up their land for a price. Corporate greed has no bounds in Yemen. REVOLUTION ACTION! 😀

    July 7, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  2. just an opinion

    america has a job for a whole generation and that is killing any fundamental arab much less al qaeda – they will die forever

    July 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Reply
    • just an opinion

      al qaeda and any other terrorist will be hunted just like the nazis –

      July 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Reply
  3. just an opinion

    kill them all

    July 5, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  4. Ivanhoe

    For more updated information read recent novel ... king of Bat'ha

    July 5, 2011 at 2:27 am | Reply
  5. barko

    al qaida never existed 9/11 jew job. USA is trying to get yemen destabilized in order to create turmoil in saudi which will give fine excuse to scumbag western OIL companies to raise gas prices. fuku

    July 4, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Reply
  6. Odessa

    Where there is freedom with literacy, it is there to be able to read the Bible. The Bible makes humans understand the God-given liberty and justice. Secularism does not.

    July 4, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Reply
  7. Odessa

    America, don't battle meaninglessly. Give al Qaeda Bibles in their own languages. They can turn out to be like your Founding Fathers. Anyone can, if only they have the Bible and read it.

    July 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Reply
  8. clarke

    Yemen is not to be trusted.

    July 3, 2011 at 7:31 am | Reply
    • madscience

      Did your yemeni boyfriend cheat on you with your sister? Poor thing.

      July 4, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Reply
  9. Stephanie Palmer

    Sounds like the US government telling everyone they need to be afraid. Governments can say anything, it doesn't make it true. It's mostly a way in which individuals can get very rich getting those government security contracts, feeding off the fears of the unknown in its citizens.

    July 3, 2011 at 5:34 am | Reply
    • madscience

      Nice to see someone with an education that can think clearly. Thanks.

      July 4, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  10. Oodoodanoo

    Raising the threat of Al Qaeda is an effective way for a weak, corrupt government to blackmail the US into sending more money. That's how Pakistan conducts business.

    In Yemen, that might actually be true. However, unlike Pakistan, they have no nukes. The consequences of a takeover in Yemen are much smaller than in Pakistan.

    In aiding the current government, we wouldn't necessarily be making the world safer for freedom. We might just be propping up the status quo strongman in yet another civil war.

    July 3, 2011 at 5:06 am | Reply
  11. erg

    so in egypt, syria etc its citizens, but in yemen bahrain libya its al quaida

    July 3, 2011 at 2:58 am | Reply
  12. Tony

    This is what Yemen gets if Saleh doesn't resigns. More Al-Qaeda.

    July 3, 2011 at 1:58 am | Reply
  13. 2bits

    Oh quick lets start yet another war in Yemen. And Syria. And and and and.

    Our government is insane.

    One definition of insanity by Albert Einstein– "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

    Isn't that what Congress and the last two administrations are doing?

    July 3, 2011 at 1:49 am | Reply
  14. HERO

    the corrupted governement should leave, and give the people thier freedom.

    July 3, 2011 at 12:08 am | Reply
  15. So Sad

    Towelhead, your name is offensive and your message is even worse. I pray that god takes the hate out of your heart and replaces it with kindness and understanding. I will not insult you because I am too educated and too classy. Those that spit hate also breed hate so I worry for your children. Your words are harsh and disgusting and are very uncalled for. I beg you to educate yourself about what the real message of Islam is. Islam does not condone the murdering of innocents, no matte what the reason is. You have just asked for a whole country to be murdered so who is the terrorist? Who is trying to incite terror? You are the poster child for ignorance and prejudice.

    July 2, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Reply
    • US Citizen

      Technically, I don't see towel head as offensive... as a turban or burka sorta resembles a towel, or vice versa... I use it when I'm poking fun at my arab colleagues and they laugh... maybe it's just because they know I'm messing around with them... I don't know... but I wouldn't say that term in of itself is offensive unless that individual means it that way... in that case, most any word could be offensive in the correct context.

      July 3, 2011 at 4:36 am | Reply
    • Islam Sucks

      So Sad, you're educated you say. I Bet you've never read the Koran, have you. It's the most vile, offensive thing I've ever read. It speaks of nothing but slaughtering the infidels.

      Try reading it sometime. Open your eyes to garbage that Islam spits out.

      July 3, 2011 at 6:08 am | Reply
  16. So Sad

    Instead of having something positive to say people come on here and bash a religion they obviously know nothing about. Islam is a peaceful religion and non-muslims unfortunately dont understand that because all they see in the media are the "extremists" that commit acts that go completely against what the religion states. Parts of the Quran are quoted as if it is a handbook for terrorism but they are taken out of context because all of these things were sent down at a time of holy war during the prophet's time and not 2011. They do not apply right now in the manner in which the media wants you to think. Please pray for all of the innocents in Yemen and any other country where people are suffering in a war they have nothing to do with and don't believe in. Please educate yourself and dont make generalizations about people. I am a muslim that does not hate jews and does not believe in terrorism, no matter who the "terrorist" is because I know the true message of Islam. God bless everyone and protect us all.

    July 2, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Reply
    • Islam Sucks

      So, Islam is a religion of peace, 'eh? Let me point out a few suras that contradict

      Allah is an enemy to unbelievers. – Sura 2:98

      On unbelievers is the curse of Allah. – Sura 2:161

      Slay them wherever ye find them and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. – 2:191

      Fight against them until idolatry is no more and Allah's religion reigns supreme. (different translation: ) Fight them until there is no persecution and the religion is God's entirely. – Sura 2:193 and 8:39

      Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it. – 2:216
      (different translation: ) Prescribed for you is fighting, though it is hateful to you.

      ..... martyrs.... Enter heaven – Surah 3:140-43

      If you should die or be killed in the cause of Allah, His mercy and forgiveness would surely be better than all they riches they amass. If you should die or be killed, before Him you shall all be gathered. – 3:157-8

      You must not think that those who were slain in the cause of Allah are dead. They are alive, and well-provided for by their Lord. – Surah 3:169-71

      Let those fight in the cause of God who sell the life of this world for the hereafter. To him who fights in the cause of God, whether he is slain or victorious, soon we shall give him a great reward. – Surah 4:74

      Those who believe fight in the cause of God, and those who reject faith fight in the cause of evil. – 4:76

      But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever you find them. – 4:89

      Therefore, we stirred among them enmity and hatred, which shall endure till the Day of Resurrection, when Allah will declare to them all that they have done. – 5:14

      O believers, take not Jews and Christians as friends; they are friends of each other. Those of you who make them his friends is one of them. God does not guide an unjust people. – 5:54

      Make war on them until idolatry is no more and Allah's religion reigns supreme – 8:39

      O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there are 20 steadfast men among you, they shall vanquish 200; and if there are a hundred, they shall rout a thousand unbelievers, for they are devoid of understanding. – 8:65

      It is not for any Prophet to have captives until he has made slaughter in the land. – 8:67

      Allah will humble the unbelievers. Allah and His apostle are free from obligations to idol-worshipers. Proclaim a woeful punishment to the unbelievers. – 9:2-3

      When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. – 9:5

      Believers! Know that idolators are unclean. – 9:28

      Fight those who believe neither in God nor the Last Day, nor what has been forbidden by God and his messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, even if they are People of the Book, until they pay the tribute and have been humbled. – 9:29 (another source: ) The unbelievers are impure and their abode is hell. (another source: ) Humiliate the non-Muslims to such an extent that they surrender and pay tribute.

      Whether unarmed or well-equipped, march on and fight for the cause of Allah, with your wealth and your persons. – 9:41

      O Prophet! Make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites. Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey's end. – 9:73

      Allah has purchased of their faithful lives and worldly goods, and in return has promised them the Garden. They will fight for His cause, kill and be killed. – 9:111

      Fight unbelievers who are near to you. 9:123 (different translation:
      Believers! Make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Let them find harshness in you. (another source: ) Ye who believe! Murder those of the disbelievers....

      As for those who are slain in the cause of Allah, He will not allow their works to perish. He will vouchsafe them guidance and ennoble their state; He will admit them to the Paradise He has made known to them. – 10:4-15

      Allah has cursed the unbelievers and proposed for them a blazing hell. – 33:60

      Unbelievers are enemies of Allah and they will roast in hell. – 41:14

      When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds, then set them free, either by grace or ransom, until the war lays down its burdens. – 47:4
      (different translation: ) When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads, and when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly.

      Those who are slain in the way of Allah – he will never let their deeds be lost. Soon will he guide them and improve their condition, and admit them to the Garden, which he has announced for them. – 47:5

      Muslims are harsh against the unbelievers, merciful to one another. – 48:25

      Muhammad is Allah's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another. Through them, Allah seeks to enrage the unbelievers. – 48:29

      Prophet! Make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal sternly with them. Hell shall be their home, evil their fate. – 66:9

      The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans shall burn forever in the fire of hell. They are the vilest of all creatures. – 98:51

      Fight them so that Allah may punish them at your hands, and put them to shame. (verse cited in Newsweek 2/11/02)

      July 3, 2011 at 6:20 am | Reply
      • jj

        Blah blah balah, get a life.

        July 4, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  17. Towelhead

    If they are a growing threat then exterminate them. Kill every extremist Muslim and their entire family. Do it slowly and let the living watch. Publicly broadcast the executions. I'd pay a dollar to watch as someone who wants to kill me die a slow painful death. I'd laugh my a$$ off. Then spit on the corpse.

    July 2, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Reply
  18. txrbt

    Gawd ... the American people instinctively knew this was going to happen from the onset. Why are the leaders the last to figure it out?

    July 2, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Reply
    • Falcon

      What me worry

      July 3, 2011 at 1:15 am | Reply
  19. lee

    Dear conspiracy theorists, please go kill yourselves. Love-lee

    July 2, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Reply
  20. islam

    america and israel making the bigest prison in the world thats gaza, will free by palistinians not by usa either israel
    americans they was supporting mubarak egipt now muslim brother free and freedom will continue the world not by supporting by usa or western country,the next generation muslim will be bring freedom not by ur bomb.

    July 2, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Reply
    • joe

      Your English sucks as much as you do!

      July 2, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Reply
    • tate

      Take your terrorist religion and shove it.

      July 2, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Reply
    • Falcon

      Islam sucks.

      July 3, 2011 at 1:16 am | Reply
  21. islam

    america will failing down, the more fight with al queda and bomb other country they geting more hate and enamies so they can not go to do business muslim country chinise they doing very good job build road in africa do business , americans might be killed, i belive usa sould change the forign policcy

    July 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Reply
    • Falcon

      We will change our foreing policy to launch Nukes on Iran and China.

      July 3, 2011 at 1:18 am | Reply
  22. Hercules

    Yemen is a lost cause. Drop the bomb on them. Violence is the only thing they understand.

    July 2, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Reply
  23. tcaros

    Al Qaeda is made up. It's a machination of the CIA backed by the New World Order. A bunch of rich folks who need a slap down by a mob of regular people. That's how to defeat the New World Order. Don't pay them and mob them in their sleep.

    July 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Reply
    • sharky

      How do we know you are not a machination of the CIA and NWO. Next you will say Osama Bin Laden never existed.

      July 3, 2011 at 2:14 am | Reply
  24. Tewrobert

    Yemen knew about them all the time, They just didnt want to do anything about them because they was too busy looking down their nose at us.
    Its all about monkey see monkey do, They are taking turns with us........
    I do believe they could get them under control if they wanted to.......But they wont, How else would they get money?

    July 2, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  25. Pete

    The west are a bunch of suckers. Everytime one of these dictators is in trouble, all he has to do is say the word "Al Qaeda" and the west comes running to the rescue. Don't fall for this trick again; the dictators are the reason for terrorism. Trust me!

    July 2, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Reply
    • joe

      Oh and we do...not!

      July 2, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Reply
  26. Yuseff

    I bet you voted for Sarah Palin back in 2008. Didn't you?

    July 2, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Reply
  27. Islam4fools

    Al queda terrorizes other Muslims and US fights Al queda.

    Even then somehow to Muslims (even to "moderate" Muslims) Al Queda are "holy warriors" and "freedom fighters" and US is the evil "occupier".

    You Muslims are so backward, brainwashed and beyond hope.

    July 2, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply

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