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Yemen: al-Qaeda’s New Target?

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point today published the new issue of its excellent publication, the CTC Sentinel (it’s a PDF, sigh). Its lead article, titled “Al-Qa’ida in Yemen’s 2008 Campaign,” warns us that Yemen is emerging as a new frontier for the jihadist movement.

Given Yemen’s reputation for violence and the journalistic clichés that accompany nearly every English report of a country teeming with guns and its importance as Usama bin Ladin’s “ancestral homeland,” it may seem that this latest series of attacks is merely a continuation of the past. This, however, is not the case. Al-Qaida in Yemen took a major step forward in January 2008 with the publication of the first issue of its online journal Sada al-Malahim (The Echo of Battles), which articulated in bold, broad strokes the group’s new strategy. Instead of the large, one-time attacks favored by the previous generation, this group under the leadership of Nasir al-Wahayshi has initiated a policy of constant offense consisting of small, continual attacks. Al-Qaida in Yemen seems to understand that there is no one knockout blow that will force Westerners out of Yemen and bring the government to its knees, but rather that it must maintain a constant barrage of activity.

So what does Sada al-Malahim tell us about al-Qaeda-in-Yemen’s strategy?

The first issue features an interview with a Saudi fighter, Abu Hammam al-Qahtani, who explains his rationale for remaining in Arabia instead of traveling to Iraq. “This choice was made for two reasons,” he said in the interview. “The first is a legal reason.” He then proceeded to quote a Qur’anic verse and a hadith that command Muslims to “expel the unbelievers from the Arabian Peninsula.” His second reason is a military one. Remaining in Yemen, he explained, will allow him to strike at oil supplies in Arabia that aid the West in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Self-serving, to be sure, but it’s something that we ignore at our peril.

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