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    Volume 9 Issue 2| January 8, 2010|

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Yemen next?

Jessica Mudditt

Stung by a Yemen point of origin in the 'underpants bomber' case, American intelligence people already speak of the Arabian peninsula nation as a new front in the anti-terror campaign. They could calculatedly be right, on the same surface logic that Afghanistan and Pakistan are jihadist incubators and that Somalia and parts of Arab North Africa could be next. This is in the nature of the transnational, franchise form of terrorism that Al-Qaeda deals in. It wasn't that long ago, after the 2002 Bali bombings, that the new-front label was applied to Indonesia and loosely to Southeast Asia. It is not heard of anymore, as the Al-Qaeda-related Jemaah Islamiah has been put to flight, although it is far from being exterminated.

Yemen, on location alone, qualifies for security scrutiny. One could smell cordite in the air of this unstable, poor country of many ethnic and tribal rivalries. It fronts the important Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, and shares a long border with Saudi Arabia. Intelligence people could see these are ready-made factors for attacks and religious indoctrination. Besides the terrorist strikes on an American warship, diplomatic interests and tourists in the past decade, a franchise operation of Al-Qaeda in Yemen is judged to be proficient in recruiting agents and organising suicide missions. It was behind the failed attempt to blow up an American plane on its approach to Detroit airport a fortnight ago. The United States and British governments assess that Yemen is a failing state troubled by an insurgency and a separatist movement that are pulling it apart, yet under a government that is friendly with the US for its military support. That, as is known, makes such a country or regime a target of West-hating religious ideologues in the Arab world.

These factors argue for an evaluation of the practical approaches available to neutralise the threat of exported terror. The irredeemable mistake would be to treat Yemen as a nonentity that powerful nations could trifle with. So disdainful of Yemen do US military and intelligence quarters sound that there is a danger they could make the situation worse, in a replay of the Afghan mission. US President Barack Obama has been more restrained (joint attacks on militants, he implies) than some congressional figures, whose language barely conceals a hint of sending Yemen back to the beginning of time. Like Afghanistan, Yemen is a mountainous country marked by political dissension. Its unpopular president is not in control, like the one in Kabul. These elements require understanding to mount any kind of a deterrence programme that has a realistic chance of success.

The Straits Times



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