Next Stop: Yemen

The British PM calls for an urgent international meeting as Yemen becomes the latest safe haven for Al Qaeda while the country confronts a situation of chaos created by a five-year civil war. As the Yemen connection to the Christmas Bomber in Detroit is confirmed and with analysts predicting that the Government in Sana’a is losing its grip, Yemen emerges as the world’s hottest hotspot.

After years of border wars, the traditionalist North Yemen merged with Marxist South Yemen in 1990. The first sign of trouble was when a separatist movement was launched in the south in 1994. Despite being crushed, social tensions remain. Ten years later, the north of the country erupted into civil war between the Government forces of President Ali Abdallah Saleh (in power since 1978) and the Shiite Zaidi sectarians led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi (the Houthi rebels in Saada Province).

The growing unrest in the country, the Middle East’s poorest nation, has made it the prime destination for thousands of illegal immigrants, many of whom come from the failed state of Somalia and in a more sinister development, for Al Qaeda.

Already before 9/11, 17 sailors aboard the USS Cole died in an attack by suicide bombers in the Port of Aden. In 2007, seven Spanish tourists were killed in a suicide car bombing in Marib. The following year there was a double car bomb attack on the US Embassy in Sana’a, while two Belgian tourists were killed in a gun attack near Shibam. In the same city, in 2009, four South Korean tourists were killed in a bomb attack. Since last summer, tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced in the fighting between the Houthis and the Government forces. The result? Chaos.


Amid the chaos, Al Qaeda operatives have taken up positions and are setting up networks for training terrorists – it is claimed the Christmas Bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab flew to Yemen shortly before his failed attempt to explode chemicals in his underpants on Christmas Day over Detroit, Michigan.

Calling Yemen “an incubator and potential safe haven for terrorism”, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has pledged 100 million GBP in security programmes in this country and has called for a parallel international summit on Yemen alongside the Afghanistan Summit on January 28th in London. The Summit has received approval from Washington and the EU and several key Middle Eastern states have been invited to participate.

Is the strategy working?

However, will this Summit go far and deep enough? Is the Islamic Republic of Iran being invited for instance (links have been made between Teheran and the Houthi rebels)? And why has Saudi Arabia carried out massive bombing attacks inside Saada, among which a market was allegedly bombed? Such actions, along with the arming and training of Yemeni security forces, are going to do nothing to engender the support of the local (tribal) population. Rather, they will become alienated and unless the international community is very careful, Yemen will become another Afghanistan.



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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey