Ex-Guantánamo inmates return to militancy in Yemen
Militants in Yemen threatened Monday to strike the US Embassy for a second time.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Two Saudis formerly jailed at the US prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have joined Al Qaeda's Yemeni branch, and authorities here worry that two other ex-Guantánamo inmates may have strayed back to militancy because they have recently disappeared from their homes.Skip to next paragraph
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The revelations illustrate the difficulties faced both by President Obama, who has pledged to shutter the facility for terror suspects, and the Saudi government, which is trying to reform its own radical jihadis, many of whom were imprisoned at Guantánamo before being released back to the kingdom.
The two Saudis working with Al Qaeda in Yemen, in addition to the two missing ex-Guantánamo detainees, participated in a Saudi rehabilitation program to counter violent ideology and reintegrate militants into society, says Gen. Mansour al-Turki, the Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman.
Further complicating Saudi efforts is a resurgence of Al Qaeda in Yemen that is drawing Saudis to fill its ranks, say terrorism experts. The group's upswing was underscored by its September attack on the US Embassy in Yemen that killed 16 people. The embassy was threatened Monday when a phone caller said it was the target of an imminent Al Qaeda attack, reported the Associated Press.
Last week, Al Qaeda in Yemen started to publish its magazine again and posted a video online declaring the Saudi and Yemeni Al Qaeda groups had united, according to Jihadica.com, a website that analyzes extremist activity on the Internet.
"The merger is probably not going to have any immediate consequences for Al Qaeda's capability," wrote Thomas Hegghammer, a scholar of Islamists and an international security fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "However, it does say something about intentions: It basically removes all doubt that Al Qaeda now intends to use Yemen as a launching pad for operations in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf." [Editor’s note: The original story didn’t indicate the origin of Thomas Hegghammer’s comments.]
Can jihadis reform?
Yemen also has a rehab program for jihadis, but it has been much less aggressive and successful than its Saudi counterpart, which has been widely praised. This is another problem in closing Guantánamo because the largest group of remaining 245 inmates are Yemenis.
Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Saturday that his government had rejected a suggestion by the Bush administration to release the 94 Yemeni detainees into the Saudi rehabilitation program, wire services reported. He added that they all would be home within three months, and placed in Yemen's rehab effort.