Counter-Terrorism: Yemeni Terrorists Try and Fail Big Time

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September21, 2008:  Islamic terrorists (they don't all claim to be al Qaeda) in Yemen managed to pull off another major attack, and failed. This time the target was the U.S. embassy, and the fifteen minutes of mayhem included two car bombs and ten or more gunmen. Apparently the plan was to set off the bombs near two of the entrances, then get into the embassy itself. These days, U.S. embassies in Islamic countries tend to be built back from the road, with local police and troops handling outer perimeter security (and U.S. Marines and contractors handling the embassy buildings defense). This attack was defeated by the Yemeni security forces, leaving six of the attackers dead. An Indian passerby was also killed, along with ten other Yemenis (including the American born wife of a Yemeni, both of whom died while standing in line to enter the embassy to get a visa for a trip to the U.S.) Four Yemeni security personnel were killed in the bombing and brief gun battle.

This is a major loss for the Islamic terrorists, as they have not only failed in their attack, but killed more Yemenis in doing so. This makes the terrorists less popular, and soon leads to their demise. This is a trend that has occurred time and again in the last few decades (in Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq).

For the last year, Yemen has been increasingly aggressive in rounding up actual, or suspected, Islamic terrorists. In response, terrorists have set off bombs near the U.S. and Italian embassies, and a housing compound for foreigners, over the last year.

Al Qaeda in Yemen operations had actually peaked in 2000, when a suicide bomber took a boatload of explosives into Aden harbor and badly damaged a U.S. destroyer (the Cole). That attack killed 17 U.S. sailors, and brought down the wrath of Yemeni security forces, for a while anyway. Since September 11, 2001, the pressure has been steady, and hundreds of al Qaeda members and supporters have been arrested or killed. That has thwarted many attacks, and none of the ones that were carried out were as effective as the attack on the USS Cole. On the downside, convicted terrorists have been able to bribe their way out of jail, although they are often recaptured.

Counter-terrorism experts have long suspected that al Qaeda leaders had put a ban on operations in Yemen, in order to keep the local security forces inactive, because the place is so useful as a terrorist hiding place and a transit node for movement into other areas. The last thing al Qaeda wants is lots of counter-terrorism activity in Yemen. This is where Osama bin Ladens family originally came from, and he still has kin there. The Yemen government is willing to go along with the al Qaeda "truce", as this is good for the lucrative tourist trade.

But there are too many Islamic radical factions, and not a lot of discipline to be found. So attacks continue. Some Yemeni officials would like to run al Qaeda out of the country. But most officials see this is as impractical. Many Yemenis are quite conservative in their religious beliefs, and tend to agree with al Qaeda. While this is a minority of the population, it is a fanatic one, willing to cause lots of trouble if stirred up.

The most recent attack led to the prompt arrest of 25 of the usual suspects.

 


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