The Yemeni Front in the War on Terror

It is difficult to decide which thought is more disturbing regarding the recent terror attack on Northwest Flight 253: that terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab nearly succeeded, or the reaction by U.S. officials in the aftermath of the attempted bombing. Janet Napolitano's ridiculous claim that everything went according to plan was retracted, revised, and extended. President Obama regarded the matter as serious enough to warrant interrupting his vacation twice, the second time calling it a "catastrophic breach" of security procedures and admitting to a "systemic failure."

But Time writer Bobby Ghosh found one anonymous counterterrorism official who said, "It's too early to say whether this guy was a lone, self-motivated terrorist or part of a larger plot. We obviously have to assume the worst, and investigate this thing down to the smallest details."

Gosh, Bobby, where did you find this nameless (and clueless) clown to interview? No wonder he wanted to remain anonymous.  As Ghosh points out later in the same article, Abdulmutallab admitted having links to al-Qaeda and said that the plot originated in Yemen.  Yet it's too early to tell if Abdulmutallab was part of a larger plot...and your source is supposed to be a counterterrorism expert? 

An al-Qaeda spokesman has since claimed responsibility for the attack, declaring that it failed only due to a "technical fault." This spokesman boasted that "the Nigerian brother broke all security barriers for his operation, dispelling the great myth of American intelligence." 

The al-Qaeda statement is tough to dispute, considering the fact that Abdulmutallab supposedly boarded the flight in Amsterdam without even a passport, aided by mysterious, sharply dressed man who spoke to gate attendants on the terrorist's behalf. A pair of attorneys who showed their boarding pass to confirm their presence on the flight claimed that the strange benefactor told gate officials, "He's [Abdulmutallab] from Sudan and we do this all the time." 

And that was good enough to get a terrorist on one of our airplanes?

If this "counterterrorism expert" was any good at his job, he could connect the same dots we are about to -- and he would have done it prior to the incident, not afterward. Obvious warning signs were present immediately prior to this latest terror attack.


Yemen first drew attention for terrorist activities with the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 that killed seventeen American sailors. The country's government is so weak that it pardoned and released Jamal al-Badawi, the mastermind of the attack originally sentenced to death, after he declared allegiance to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemen has been designated "the international jihadi's destination of choice" in an article by Simon Tisdall in the U.K. Guardian, who speculated that "blowing up an American airliner over US soil by al-Qaeda operatives based in Yemen is the western intelligence community's worst nightmare come true."

Tisdall reasoned that Yemen and Somalia are terrorist havens because of their weak central governments that are "prey to warring factions that have no love of the west." Recent events seem to underscore his points with chilling clarity.

Timeline Prior to the Attack on Flight 253

While the multiple terror test-runs were being conducted on domestic American flights in an apparent attempt to probe and soften airline security, the following events took place.

August 28, 2009 - Saudi deputy minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef survived a bombing attack in which the terrorist wore PETN sewn into his underwear and exploded the device using a detonator with a chemical fuse. The terrorist on Flight 253 also acquired his device "in Yemen along with instructions as to when it should be used." 

According to CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen, "A senior U.S. counterterrorism official says it is rare for PETN to be used in a terror attack. The method of concealment, the use of PETN and the origin of the bomb -- Yemen -- make the Prince Nayef assassination attempt and the Northwest plot an almost perfect match."

Mid-December, 2009 - Yemeni security forces struck in Arhab and Sana in the Abyan province, killing a number of suspected militants with links to al-Qaeda. Al-Jazeera claimed 40 of the 64 people killed in the attacks were innocent women and children, and the U.S. is blamed, although the local government was apparently responsible for the raids.

December 21, 2009 - Hakim Almasmari wrote at editorial in the Yemen Post claiming that ninety percent of those killed in the Abyan attacks were innocent "locals, children, and women."  He ended his piece by saying:

I believed that it this shows failure for the government as it allowed Al-Qaeda to have a training camp there in the first place. No success comes when innocent people die.  

As a political commentator, publisher, and editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post, Mr. Almasmari has considerable influence in Yemeni politics. His accusations that the Yemeni government indiscriminately killed innocent Yemeni civilians should not be taken lightly. Even if the claims are false, they resonate with others.

December 24, 2009 - Mohammed bin Sallam wrote an inflammatory column published in the Yemen Times that included statements such as this, attributed to Mohammed Allaw of HOOD (considered an acronym of "National Organization for Defending Human Rights and Freedom" for some bizarre reason):

We suffer from living in a country that is ruled by a government which does not respect its citizens' lives. It exists to destroy its citizens with American airplanes, like what happened in Abyan.

Later in his piece, bin Sallam provocatively wrote that "the protestors included members of Al-Qaeda who announced in the public protest that their war is against the USA and not the Yemeni army." Footage on Al-Jazeera showed escaped al-Qaeda leader Abdullah Ahmad al-Raimi (wanted by the Yemen government) lurking in a crowd of protestors in the village of al-Majanah, where the military strikes against suspected al-Qaeda camps took place the previous week. According to bin Sallam, the Yemeni Minister of the Interior "confirmed it has information that Al Qaeda in Lawder in Abyan governorate is planning to take revenge for the attack."

We didn't have to wait very long.

December 25, 2009 - Flight 253 is nearly blown up by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who claimed he was trained, armed, and tasked by Al-Qaeda operatives based in Yemen.

What Next?

Yemeni security forces struck al-Qaeda strongholds, and America got blamed for it. Shortly thereafter, we were attacked. Multiple terror test-runs probed airline security immediately prior to the real attack. One ominous report from a family on Flight 253 claimed that a strange man "videotaped the entire flight, including the attempted detonation. He sat up and videotaped the entire thing, very calmly. We do know the FBI is looking for him intensely. Since then, we've heard nothing of it." Was he making an al-Qaeda training film?

The U.K. paper The Sun published an article claiming that Abdulmutallab bragged to FBI agents that twenty-five British-born Muslims are training in secret terror camps in Yemen for more attacks on airlines, hoping to kill tens of thousands of people. Given the lax security that led to the near-tragedy on Flight 253, it would seem only a matter of time before one succeeds. 

El-Al, the national airline of Israel and the prime target for terrorists and hijackers around the world, has the best record of thwarting these attempts. Why don't we learn from them? Profiling must be a tool in their defensive arsenal. Otherwise, CAIR would not have rushed to condemn profiling, as spokesman Ibrahim Cooper was quick to say: 

While everyone supports robust airline security measures, racial and religious profiling are in fact counterproductive and can lead to a climate of insecurity and fear.    

Really?  Is that why CAIR backed the flying imams on U.S. Airways Flight 300 and claimed victory when the lawsuit settled in their favor? Deliberate, organized behavior by the imams alarmed other passengers and the flight crew in a manner that any sane passenger would have considered threatening. We are all tired of witnessing the shenanigans of groups of Muslim men acting provocatively in a post-9/11 world. 

The Yemeni breeding ground for future terrorists needs to be aggressively neutralized, whether or not it is politically correct to do so. 

John Leonard can be reached at  His first book, titled Hybrid Theory: Reconciling Creationism and Evolution Theory, is pending publication by epress-online.
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