Is Al Qaeda in Yemen connected to Al Qaeda in Somalia?
In the wake of the Christmas Day Northwest airlines bombing attempt, some are wondering if the Al Qaeda branches in Yemen and Somalia are linked. Most experts don't see evidence of coordination – not yet.
Yemen and Somalia are separated geographically by the Gulf of Aden, which at its narrowest point, is just 100 miles across – about the same distance as Miami is from Cuba. The ethnic, cultural, and linguistic gap between the two nations is much wider.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, both are poor, internally riven nations battling Islamist insurgencies.
In the wake of the Christmas Day Northwest airlines bombing attempt, some observers are wondering if the Al Qaeda branch in Yemen might be connected to the Al Qaeda sympathizers in Somalia.
Regional exerts say there is little if any concrete evidence of a broad, coordinated terrorist campaign in both countries. But it could happen.
"The linkage is that you have elements in both countries with the same jihadist and extremist ideology,” says Ted Dagne, a Horn of Africa expert and senior researcher at the Congressional Research Service in Washington. “The geographic proximity allows these extremists to sustain themselves and coordinate their efforts.”
The potential for linkage may shape the way the Obama administration moves to beef up support for the Yemeni government’s efforts to rein in radical Islamists. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced yesterday that US efforts would focus as much on development as on military support. But experts say it’s clear that solutions in Yemen and Somalia will largely have to come from greater leadership and vision within those countries.
“The similarity between Yemen and Somalia is that they are tribal societies, they have conservative social norms, and they have both had weak states unable to provide services to the people,” says one Horn of Africa expert, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Al Qaeda embeds itself into conflict societies. They build ties with tribal elders. They build schools. They provide social services, like Hamas [the Palestinian militant group] does. They buy loyalty, they get legitimacy, and once clans make friends with someone like this, you don’t give them up. Getting them out will be like finding a needle in a haystack.”
Somalia's Al Qaeda connection
As in Yemen, Al Qaeda fighters have begun arriving in Somalia to carry out a war against a state that is seen by Islamists to be imposed on that society by the West. Security experts say some 200 foreign jihadists have arrived from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, India, and even the US, who serve as military trainers and experts in explosives. Many Islamists flocked to Somalia to help fight the Ethiopian Army, which invaded Somalia in Dec. 2006 to oust the Islamic Courts Union government.