A new base? Al Qaeda rises in Yemen.
Suspected in the kidnapping of nine foreigners last week, the militant group appears to be gaining momentum – thanks in part to weak central government.
The recent kidnapping of nine foreign aid workers in Yemen, three of whom were reported killed Monday, has heightened attention on the activities here of Al Qaeda – which some analysts blame for the attack.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The group appears to be using Yemen's factionalism to gain momentum in the country, one of the poorest in the Arab world.
A separatist movement in the south and an unrelenting rebel group in the north have left Yemen's central government with little control reaching beyond the capital of Sanaa. That makes the country an ideal place for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – the regional branch of the international movement – to gain popularity among those disenfranchised by the government.
"It is natural when there are extremists in a country for them to use instability of the country their advantage," says Mohammed Haidar, a researcher at the Sheba Center for Strategic Studies in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. "Many of the issues Yemen faces are because of its economic problems. The government couldn't develop after unification [of northern and southern Yemen in 1990]. This created a poor class of people ready to join any extremist group."
In February, a month after Al Qaeda in Yemen merged with its Saudi counterpart to form AQAP, Dennis Blair, the US director of national intelligence, identified the country as a potential new haven for the group.
"Yemen is reemerging as a jihadist battleground and potential regional base of operations for al Qaeda to plan internal and external attacks, train terrorists, and facilitate the movement of operatives," said Admiral Blair (ret.).
The New York Times reported last week that Al Qaeda is finding a homeland in Yemen as militants from Pakistan have relocated to the south of the Arabian peninsula. However, both American officials and the Yemeni government subsequently have claimed that the article is unsubstantiated.
"Perhaps there is more communication between Al Qaeda in Yemen and groups in Pakistan," says Gregory Johnsen, a researcher on Yemen at Princeton University in New Jersey. "And while in Yemen we've certainly seen Al Qaeda growing stronger, there has been no evidence that they are coming from Pakistan."
Why analysts believe Al Qaeda is behind kidnappings
On Sunday, the bodies of three murdered foreigners who were working for a church-affiliated Dutch relief agency were found in the volatile Saada Province in northern Yemen – a region whose mountainous geography and lack of control by the central government makes it an ideal hideout for extremists. The victims, two German women and a South Korean woman, were abducted last Friday along with six other foreign nationals while picnicking in the region.