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After underwear plot, Saudi officials cite headway against AQAP

Saudi officials refused to discuss their involvement in disrupting the latest underwear bomb plot from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but say they are making gains against the group.

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Easy to sneak off to Yemen

General Turki emphasized that the current situation in Yemen is similar in many ways to that of Afghanistan pre-9/11, when Osama bin Laden used it as a training base for jihadis from various different countries. But Yemen’s extensive coastline makes it easier for militants to come and go from the country and get supplies, while the long border with Saudi aids recruitment and potential attacks against the kingdom, he said.

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“For young Saudis, it’s easy to go to Yemen for a few days without their families knowing,” says Turki, the ministry spokesman. “Even the [Saudi] government would not know about it, and that is very dangerous” because those Saudi nationals could then be used to launch attacks back home.

In August 2009, an AQAP militant faking repentance nearly assassinated the deputy interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

The militant, Abdullah al-Asiri, was the brother of Ibrahim al-Asiri, the alleged bombmaker involved in the latest underwear bombing plot, as well as the earlier plot on Christmas Day 2009. Mr. Nayef is the son of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who has run the Ministry of Interior since the 1970s.

“The good thing about Al Qaeda in Yemen so far is that they have failed in every suicide attempt,” says spokesman Turki, ticking off the attempted Nayef assassination, the 2009 Christmas Day plot, the 2010 cargo plane plot, and the latest underwear bombing.

“Each time we say thanks to God. When they fail, it makes it hard to recruit, because it shows that the leaders are not good.”

Ministry officials did not provide exact figures on AQAP, but estimated the bulk of the organization’s leaders to be Yemeni, with no more than 100 Saudis among them. Col. Mohammed, when asked about links between AQAP and Al Qaeda in Pakistan said unequivocally, “It’s one organization.” He cited messages of support for AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi from Mr. bin Laden before his death, and from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new Al Qaeda leader, but did not give any details of logistical support beyond the existence of a “very limited number” of couriers who travel between Afghanistan and Yemen.

This story was updated after posting to clarify that Saudi officials did not take credit for successes against AQAP in Yemen.

Christa Case Bryant traveled to Saudi Arabia on an IRP Gatekeeper Editors trip organized by the International Reporting Project in Washington.

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