Why Al Qaeda finds sympathy in Yemen
Student and taxi driver Abdul Jabbar al-Suhaili, who drags a soiled Israeli flag behind his car, says he wishes Osama bin Laden were president.
Trailing in the dirt behind a taxi here is a soiled Israeli flag with red boot prints, meant to symbolize the blood of Palestinians.Skip to next paragraph
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It may be a small protest by Yemeni college student and driver Abdul Jabbar al-Suhaili, who says he wishes Osama bin Laden were president. But the display taps into a far broader and perennial issue that continues to draw recruits for Al Qaeda; engenders mistrust of the US, Israel’s closest ally; and echoes answers given in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when Americans asked, “Why do they hate us?”
“There are many guys all over the world with Al Qaeda, because they see the US and Israel are fighting to steal their resources,” asserts Mr. Suhaili. “So what should people do? They fight.”
Why does a conflict more than 1,200 miles away from this southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula – one that has raged three times longer than this 20-year-old has been alive – matter to him?
“Palestine will remain in our hearts until liberation – this is the least we can do. Israel has done nothing for us – it kills Muslims, makes problems for everyone, and doesn’t listen to the United Nations.”
It’s a common refrain across the Muslim world. But in Yemen, where the local Al Qaeda affiliate dramatically expanded the reach of attempted attacks in 2009 – capping it by claiming to be behind a plot to blow up a US airliner on Christmas Day, such sentiments have taken on new relevance for the West.
The failed Christmas Day bombing also highlighted the threat for Yemen’s government, which is under heightened international pressure to address the problem.
“A lot could have been done earlier,” says Mr. Faqih. “This is a government of firefighters – it is fighting fires all the time. But no one thinks about the reasons behind the fires.”
How Al Qaeda recruits in Yemen
The adage that “all politics is local” applies to each branch of Al Qaeda, as it does in Yemen, where Islamist militants can work with relative ease inside a tribal structure; and where weak government and a heavy hand in two other conflicts provides ready-made talking points. But among the constants on Al Qaeda’s list of global grievances – and recruiting tools – has been the Israel-Palestine conflict, says Saeed Ali al-Jemhi.
“I wish this Israel-Palestine problem would be solved – if there were a just solution, then we could cut a big artery for Al Qaeda in Yemen and all the world,” says Mr. Jemhi, author of a book on Al Qaeda in Yemen, his home country.