Al-Qaeda has not been decimated

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s August 15, 2013 blog post.

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In my May 2012 article, “The Republic of Yemen: Al-Qaeda’s backyard” I highlighted concerns about al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the instability that these Islamists could create in the region.

Osama bin Laden had family ties to the Kindite clan in Yemen. As a young man he was a student of the radical Sheik Abdul Majid al-Zindani. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in 2012 for his lack of subduing the al-Qaeda militants, also had strong ties with al-Zindani, who was a designated terrorist. President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is now battling the powerful AQAP which controls large swaths of the country.

Al-Qaeda’s strong presence in southern Yemen goes back to the early 1990′s.  Local tribesmen, who resisted Saleh’s government interference in the region, welcomed the insurgents into their villages. Imams in neighboring countries also encouraged young Muslins to relocate to Yemen to train with al-Qaeda. A number of Guantanamo prison detainees, on release also found their way to Yemen. The Obama administration plans to send several more of the incarcerated Islamists back to Yemen, adding to the ranks of AQAP.

Osama bin Laden went to Afghanistan in the 1980’s to support the mujahideen warlords in their fight against the Soviet troops. Bin Laden subsequently formed al-Qaeda (the Base) in 1987 with his Arab fighters. In the early 1990’s some of the fighters left and ended up in the southern Abyan region of Yemen.

With the U.S. military surge in Afghanistan and Iraq more al-Qaeda fighters have since ended up in Yemen. Recent terrorist plots by al-Qaeda militants prompted the U.S. to step up drone strikes against the insurgents, causing many to flee to the neighboring Hadramaut province of eastern Yemen.

President Barrack Obama has pledged to help the Yemeni government capture or kill the embedded AQAP militants. U.S. Special Forces have been involved in several military operations, and Predator drones are being used daily to seek out Islamist leaders.

American born radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki moved to Yemen in 2004 and developed a large following of young Muslims, who were incited to perform jihadist attacks. Richard Reid the British-born shoe bomber, Nigerian-born underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab and the U.S. military officer Nidal Hasan were among al-Awlaki’s followers. Although al-Awlaki was killed in September 2011 by a drone missile, his radical teachings live on.

Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri a young Saudi, invented the underwear explosive device used in the attempt to blow up a jetliner in December 2009. He has come up with a newer non-detectable version. A recent drone strike injured al-Asiri, now a deputy to Nasser al-Wuhayshi the AQAP leader and former secretary to Osama Bin Laden.

Yemen has had a long history of terrorist attacks, including the 2000 USS Cole bombing in the Port of Aden in which seventeen sailors were killed; the 2002 French tanker Limburg attack in which one crewman was killed; a 2003 oil facility attack in which one Canadian worker was killed; in 2006 four terrorists and a security guard were killed in a foiled suicide attack against two oil refineries; in 2007 at the historic Queen of Sheba Temple site a suicide bomber killed eight Spanish tourists and two guides.

President Obama has consistently stated that with Osama bin Laden’s demise “Al- Qaeda is on the path to defeat”. Susan Rice the National Security Advisor echoed his remarks saying, “[We] got bin Laden, and al-Qaeda’s been dismantled”. The Obama Administration continues to state that the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) is over, although on-going jihadist attacks prove otherwise.

The U.S.-led NATO incursion into North Africa has only emboldened attacks by the Islamist groups: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Sharia, Libyan Islamic Fighters, Ansar al-Dine, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), al-Nusra Front and the AQAP.

Many of the new Islamist recruits may not remember Osama bin Laden, but they are well trained and eager to undertake terrorist attacks. Some of the Islamist groups are more focused on gaining control of a region, but will attack the U.S. if we stand in their way. These Islamists are as brutal as their al-Qaeda predecessors.

Al-Qaeda has not been decimated by the demise of Osama bin Laden. The al-Qaeda affiliates will continue to expand their presence throughout Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Qaeda’s broader vision is to destroy Western civilization–the U.S. being foremost on the list–ultimately creating a worldwide caliphate under Islamic law.

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