Although Yemen President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his anti-terror American partners have been keen to assert they have indeed weakened al-Qaeda’s network through a clever combination of ground intelligence and military fire-power, security experts have begged to differ, pointing instead to a much different reality.
While al-Qaeda militants were no more than a handful a decade ago, when the world woke up to the horror of 9/11 and Islamic radicalism, militants are believed to have grown into their thousands, spread across the Middle East, Africa and the Persian Gulf.
Not anymore a cluster of lunatics, whose sole purpose is dedicated to war and bloodshed, al-Qaeda, has outgrown its shell and morph into a terror movement whose many cells have spread far and wide, just as a malignant tumour would latch onto healthy cells.
If state officials have allowed the public to entertain the idea that al-Qaeda is a manageable threat, one which will soon be completely eliminated, not to give militants more ground on the terror narrative, intelligence sources have warned that radical Islam is gaining ever more ground, ever more support.
In a very telling security report, CNN wrote on Saturday, “While al Qaeda suffered significant setbacks after Navy SEALs shot and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, and drone strikes have taken out top terrorists along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the terror group and its close allies have rebounded in Yemen, the Sinai region of Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and parts of east and west Africa, among other places.”
Having played unrest and political instability to its advantage, al-Qaeda is most troublesome in Yemen. A vast country with many long borders and over 2000 kilometres of coastline, Yemen represents a terror militant’s geo-strategic haven. At a crossroad in between Europe, Asia and Africa, rogue terrains and a fractured population with a strong and conservative Islamic tradition embedded in tribalism, Yemen is any terror cell’s dream.
And indeed, one has only to look back at 2012 to understand just how important establishing a secured and permanent in Yemen is for al-Qaeda. The group attempted the unthinkable in 2011 when it dare defied the country’s armed forces by seizing large swathes of land in the southern restive province of Abyan. When Sana’a failed to react to the dare, the regime too pre-occupied with its own political survival, al-Qaeda moved for the kill in 2012 by proclaiming two cities: Jaar and Zinjibar, Islamic Caliphates.
Although President Hadi was quick to reclaim Abyan Yemen’s own, the very idea that al-Qaeda, a group, we were told of was no more than a band of rogue assassins and enlightened bigots could mastermind and successfully carry out such a coup against an established government stroke a cord.
Abyan would not be al-Qaeda’s odd one out. Ever since 2012, AQAP has grown in strength boldness and me; and so far with every drone strike which Yemen has authorized, Yemenis have had to pay much retribution. For every terror militants which the US has hunted down and targeted, Yemeni officers have been assassinated, foreign workers have been kidnapped and villages up and down the country have learnt to live in fear of their sky.
According to security sources, Yemen has become a grave source of concern.
Seth Jones, an analyst at Rand Corp. told CNN, “There are multiple indications that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is plotting attacks both within Yemen, against US and Western structures and overseas … Al-Qaeda [militants] in Yemen are still capable of conducting attacks" and particularly adept at "taking down aircraft."
So far both the US and Yemen have concentrated their efforts into military counter-terrorism, rather than attack terrorism at its source, at its birthplace: dogmatism.
As noted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein extremists have worked hard on selling perfect, utopic Islamic state where the laws of God would reign unabated and unchallenged. H
"I think there is a real displaced aggression in this very fundamentalist, jihadist, Islamic community," she said. "And that is that the west is responsible for everything that goes wrong...I see more groups, more fundamentalists, more jihadists more determined to kill to get to where they want to get."
Al-Qaeda has become most dangerous in Yemen because it offers people an alternative to corruption, poverty, injustice and insecurity. In a country torn apart by hunger, unemployment, deep social imbalance and high illiteracy rates, terror militants have found a ground ripe for mass indoctrination.