Al-Qaeda in Yemen - Still a Manageable Threat

Posted in Terrorism , Broader Middle East | 16-Jun-09 | Author: Nicole Stracke| Source: Gulf Research Center

Yemeni tribesmen inspect the site of an alleged Al-Qaeda suicide car bomb against a convoy of Western tourists in the northern region of Mareb city in 2007.

"Over the past year Yemen's government and security forces have faced various security and political challenges. While confronting the challenges presented by the al-Houthi rebellion in the north, the government has also had to deal with separatist activities in the south and continuing threats from al-Qaeda countrywide.

However, while the al-Houthi conflict is particularly worrisome, al-Qaeda's threat to the stability of the state is apparently limited. Even though al-Qaeda has conducted a number of operations over the past year and is continuing its public statements threatening to carry out attacks against government and foreign targets in Yemen, it is safe to say that threats from terrorist activities in Yemen could still be rated 'manageable and containable'. This is for various reasons.

Publicly announced in 2007, al-Qaeda's Yemen branch, now going by the name of 'al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula' appears to be no more than an incoherent structure, lacking control over its members, localized in its activities, and operating mostly in independent small cells. Despite the fact that the organization is operating in different governorates throughout the country the size of its membership remains modest; it is estimated at between 100-150 active members in total.

It would also appear that the organization is suffering from a 'crisis of leadership'. Even though Nasir al-Wuhayshi has been the declared leader of the Yemeni group since 2007, there have been indications that neither his leadership is unanimously recognized nor his strategy accepted among all members of the organization. It is believed that al-Wuhayshi, in contrast to other al-Qaeda members, prefers at this stage a more passive tactic; focusing mainly on recruitment and planning. In addition, al-Wuhayshi's lack of leadership skills is evident in his failure to prevent other members from confronting security personnel and government officials, and from targeting tourism, foreign embassies and oil installations.

Also adding to al-Wuhayshi's disadvantage is the fact that neither Osama bin Laden nor Ayman al-Zawahiri have officially endorsed him as the al-Qaeda leader in Yemen. Unlike al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al Qaeda branch in Iraq, where al-Zawahiri publicly endorsed its leaders, the headquarter's support for al-Wuhayshi is yet to come. For many members in Yemen this places additional uncertainty over the legitimacy of al-Wuhayshi's leadership. The lack of endorsement by the al-Qaeda top leadership could be interpreted as disagreement with al-Wuhayshi and disapproval of his strategy.

Still, the reason for the al-Qaeda mother organization's reluctance to support al-Wuhayshi might be more practical than personal. The mother organization is aware of the three levels of internal struggle dominating al-Qaeda in Yemen and could have decided to not interfere in the matter. Indeed, when Saudi fighters started crossing into Yemen to join al-Qaeda at the beginning of last year all indications pointed to a rapid expanding of al-Qaeda on the ground in Yemen. But evidence now suggests that rather than working as a whole, Yemeni and Saudi factions have sprung up in the organization and conflict has arisen both within and between these factions, only adding further to the existing problems al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is facing.

Moreover, most of the current members of al-Qaeda in Yemen who represent the new young generation are not directly known to either Osama bin Laden or to Ayman al-Zawahiri. While al-Wuhayshi may have fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan as a junior member of the organization, this might not be enough for the top leadership to endorse him as the leader of al-Qaeda in Yemen. It is more likely that, before extending leadership endorsement and recognition, the mother organization will watch for the time being to see whether al-Wuhayshi has both the credibility and the necessary leadership skills to be accepted among Yemenis and Saudis and to lead the organization.

The influx of Saudi recruits also promised, among others things, cash injections to the Yemeni branch. But even al-Qaeda in Yemen's financial standing is now questionable. Terrorist cell members being tried in Sana'a from April this year confessed to having planned robberies and attacks on banks in Sana'a and other cities to secure funds for the organization. Other indications suggest that al-Qaeda was considering kidnappings to raise money, a tactic that is frequently used by the Iraq and Maghreb branch of al-Qaeda.

Tribal support of al-Qaeda is one of the key issues and a main concern for government and security forces in Yemen. Read Full Article