Inside the Middle East
November 8, 2010
Posted: 1433 GMT
Yemeni security are seen outside a branch of the US package delivery firm UPS in Sanaa (Getty Images)
Yemeni security are seen outside a branch of the US package delivery firm UPS in Sanaa (Getty Images)

Editor's Note:  Ben Wedeman has lived and worked in the Middle East for more than 30 years, and has reported from Yemen.

Yemen is "a hotbed of al Qaeda activity," a "failed state," "the next Afghanistan." Or so we are being told.

Trying to make sense of the uproar over Yemen stirred up in late October by the handful of alleged bombs shipped from Yemen and bound for the United States, I sought the wisdom of people who have been to Yemen, lived there, and speak the language.

One of them is Sheila Carapico, a Yemen expert teaching at the American University in Cairo.

"Some of the intelligence from inside the government and think tanks and other sources in Washington on Yemen is so focused on this AQAP (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) entity that they just neglect to get a basic grasp on Yemeni geography and history," she told me.

AQAP is believed to be behind the package bombs, as well as the accused bomber Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, who U.S. authorities say tried to blow up a passenger jetliner with an explosive partially sewn into his underwear. He's facing six charges, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, and has pleaded not guilty to charges of trying to blow up the plane.

AQAP's so-called spiritual leader, US-born Anwar Al-Awlaqi, is said to have been the inspiration for Major Nidal Hassan, accused of going on a shooting rampage in Fort Hood, Texas, a year ago, in which 13 people were killed.

AQAP may be on the lips of the growing army of terrorism "experts" around the world, but it remains, she said, something of an unknown quantity in the Arab world. "Americans recognize the notion of AQAP and think it's a huge threat. For most Arabs, the acronym makes no sense and the organization, if it exists at all, is a sort of shadowy, fluctuating, almost viscous entity."

Indeed, I suspect if you were to go out on the streets of Cairo and ask one thousand people if they knew who Anwar al-Awlaqi is, you'd probably be met by blank stares. It may come as a surprise to some, but the poster demons in the war on terror are largely unknown in this part of the world.

And Carapico isn't impressed by the threat posed by AQAP: "At this point we have a series of failed, low-tech operations," she said. "The threat is so asymmetric. It's so, at this point, I hate to say, pathetic. I think there is room to wonder if we are using disproportionate resources to combat a fairly small and relatively toothless enemy."

A view not shared by the U.S. government, obviously. President Barack Obama has pledged to support the efforts of the Yemeni government to crack down on AQAP. The US may provide as much as $250 million dollars in increased security assistance to Yemen.

But Carapico says AQAP is way down on the list of domestic foes challenging the 32-year-old regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In the north his army is battling a persistent tribal rebellion, although a tenuous truce is holding for now. In the south of the country a secessionist movement is gaining steady ground. It's not clear what link the secessionists have to AQAP. Yemen is also in the throes of an economic meltdown caused by the collapse in world oil prices, and a growing water shortage that threatens to cripple the country.

Growing American military assistance to the increasingly unpopular Yemeni regime could well be diverted to other battles. And that would be a godsend to groups capitalizing on anti-western sentiment.

"If your response to incidents like this is to treat them like existential threats, and take extraordinary measures, that's exactly what a terrorist wants you to do," noted Ezzidine Choukri-Fishere, a former Egyptian diplomat. "So the choice is yours: Do you want to play this game, or do you want to break the cycle and do something different?"

Doing something different, according to Choukri-Fishere, means a complete revamping of US Mideast policy: Shifting away from the traditionally ironclad embrace of Israel, finding common cause with the people of the region, backing away from unpopular, dictatorial regimes.

Otherwise, a single-minded focus on terrorism, to the exclusion of all else, could prove costly. Anti-American sentiment is on the rise, he said, "and I'm afraid that United States, as many superpowers before [it], doesn't see the earth-shaking under its feet until it's too late."

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Filed under: Obama •U.S. •Yemen

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CB   November 8th, 2010 4:23 pm ET

Not a handful – that would be 4 or 5 – but two devices that were not viable until Obama telepromptered it so. Everything else is a great perspective from the people of a region that Washington DC and the Pentagon are using and abusing while playing out their sicko agenda. You can only hope it gets through to the likes of readers of the Washington Post.

danR   November 8th, 2010 4:57 pm ET

If AQAP is that low on the priority/recognition scale, it could easily be a convenient target of blame for a concocted incident (MOSSAD or CIA or whatever, it makes little difference), plausibly modeled after Al Qaida 'hallmarks', and backed up by a fake claim of responsibility.

PETN, lead azide, timer. Sure. Only the foxes in charge of the henhouse would know if the thing (if what they took off the plane, is the same thing they are talking about to the media) would actually detonate at all.

'But', they will say, 'of course it was bomb.'

'We just told you, didn't we?'

All to leverage Yemen: 'try harder'.

Believe this possible psy-op when someone is actually arrested, charged, and brought into court.

Abdullah   November 8th, 2010 5:04 pm ET

In the end we will win. It is the will of Allah.

EUROPE   November 8th, 2010 6:02 pm ET

I'm a European living in Yemen and all news about Yemen is very exagerated. The American government is crazy.... why do they focus on Yemen so much all of the sudden? The threat is low and the package bombs didn't even make the local news.... Yemen is under pressure from the American government and e.g. the tourism industry is completely ruined by UK and USA pressure to limit visas at the airport. I know many people who have kids to feed and became unemployed. 30 years ago Yemen was overwhelmed with Europeans and Americans, it was normal to see foreigners in every corner of the city... but now.....

Lets face it... No Yemeni likes Al Qaida, they all hate it. But when America would invade Yemen it will become a disaster, I know many many people including kids and foreigners that would start up and fight against America and Americans. I hope Obama is wise and leaves the country alone. It can solve it's own problems.

Some inside info... the bombs were not activated (no simcard in 1, just one part of the binary explosive in another) and it's nationwide believed that Americans sent the bombs on the cargo planes themselves and not AQAP (which statement -not verified- came unusually late).. Is it election time perhaps? Or maybe distracting from the wikileaks messages in the news which tell about American warcrimes...?? Who knows.... Nobody believes a Yemeni sent those 'bombs'.


Chris   November 8th, 2010 6:42 pm ET

Why would you want to win what against whom, Abdullah? The West is not at war with Islam. And AlQaida is also mostly busy blowing up mosques during Friday prayers. The Arab/muslim world should try to win the battle against poverty, malnourishement, illiteracy, scientific backwardness, suppression of women and gays/lesbians, dictatorships and so on, now that would be a victory.

***^^^***   November 8th, 2010 6:45 pm ET

Why does Yemen hate us again? Did we do something to them?

Dennis   November 8th, 2010 6:54 pm ET

Sounds like a "failed government" to me!

John A   November 8th, 2010 6:59 pm ET

Obama says Anwar Al-Awlaki was behind the recent airline bomb attempts.

Meanwhile Fox news finds Anwar Al-Awlaki dines at the Pentagon.

Anwar Al-Awlaki has been on the pay roll of the CIA as was Osama.

The American fraud known as the "war on terror" demonstrates how naive Americans are. Hey, but keep giving your tax dollars to the military industrial complex, Israel and Goldman Sachs. Keep giving until you have no more money and no jobs.

False terror and financial scandals define America in the 21st Century. Its sad, but Americans have been so easily cheated they almost deserve it. Deserve it for being so naive!

jackson   November 8th, 2010 7:10 pm ET

Abdullah...the will of who? This is so characteristic of you and your kind. Spouting off about it is the will of God to rule and if necessary, kill another human being. No, no, no, will never win, for there are too many people who see you, and your deference to a hijacked religion as the root of the problem...not the solution.

Mohamed   November 8th, 2010 7:34 pm ET

Insha Allah, we will reach an agreement before anyone wins and find a way to live in Peace. One God, One People, No More Fighting Unless You're Shooting Paintball Bullets!

Smith in Oregon   November 9th, 2010 12:36 am ET

The actual recognized government of Yemen is a mere shell even in the best description. Perhaps it has ruler-ship of a single city in Yemen and NOTHING ELSE.

Americans are being hit by the rabid war mongering Zionist AIPAC Israeli foreign agents pushing America into a war in Yemen AND by the utterly depraved Saudi Royal family to wage a war against the Saudi Royal Family dissenters in nearby Yemen.

Those evil groups, AIPAC and the Saudi Royal Family are pulling America's strings, media and politicians to attack the dissenters in Yemen as per THEIR AGENDA.

It is just as likely either of those groups (Israel's AIPAC or Saudi Royal Family's) sent those would be bombs (duds) to the west in order to draw America further into THEIR AGENDA.

The so-called government of Yemen is not a democracy, it is a tiny Oasis ruler-ship over at most a single city in Yemen. Oh, they are attacking America. Really, or was it one of the other groups specifically to draw America into attacking Yemen, sacrificing the lives of more Americans?

There is no separating the Saudi Royal Family and Saudi Arabia from the PETN based attacks, and yet America's News Media is giving the Saudi Royal Family a Royal Pass, Hypocrites! This is entirely a proxy war between the Saudi Royal Family and the Saudi dissidents in nearby Yemen. America should entirely isolate itself from being drawn into propping up the utterly depraved and utterly corrupt Saudi Royal Family and it's ruler-ship over the Saudi people.

miriam   November 9th, 2010 12:01 pm ET


The fact that the package bombs did not reach the local news in Yemen is indicative of the real problem, ie denial by many that there is any problem.

The fact that the threats, if even acknowledged, are then dismissed as emanating from a handfull of extreme individuals or failed operations or asymetric warfare to be treated gently, is irresponsible and inviting the growth of such groups with more sophisticated technology and more daring operations.

Not to mention the factor ignored entirely in the whole episode, the destination of the packages. Even if they were intended to explode in transit, it does not diminish the significance that the targets were Jewish places of worship in the US. Jews as targets no longer merits any attention, let alone disgust by the international community, including those involved in the War on Terror.

Such flippancy lends illegitimate justification to the abhorrant ideas and conspiracies of those such as JOHN A and SMITH who consistently blame every ill in the world on the Jews.

Walhalla   November 9th, 2010 2:43 pm ET

What has America done to Yemen?

In mid december 2009, America launched clusterbombs from the Gulf of Aden into the province of Abyan. I've seen pictures taken by mobile phones which shows that they are american clusterbombs some with booby trapped. 60 innocent villagers including alot of women and children were killed, complete families wiped out. Why? There was supposed to be "intelligence" about a terrorist training camp. I know people who live in that province and they said it's totally bogus information. America wanted to make a STATEMENT to all the tribes not to cooperate with "al qaida" or whatever they are hunting on.

Now you wonder why AQAP has risen? It was a reaction on the American offensive to bomb an Airplaner above Detroit. It was a reaction to an American military offense in Yemen, killing 60 innocent civilians and no terrorists.

What happened now? Many people all over the world came to Abyan to join AQAP.. Thank you America :(

proud zionist   November 15th, 2010 9:14 pm ET

Smith in Gaza

you will wake up one day and find yourself in an Israeli prison, you little Hamas terrorist

John A   November 18th, 2010 11:28 am ET

Actually Proud Zionist, you sound like Nicolae Ceauşescu. Belive me, you and your corrupt buddies will not escape the same fate.

Instead of citizens passing through naked body scanners at airports, the world would be safer if all politicians needed to pass lie detector tests.

An advert as seen on New York TV.

As Ghandi said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you, then you win".

Even lamestream media in an attempt to remain relevant has started to allow truth to rise.

When the US governments' crimes (which were made in collusion with Mossad) are finally revealed, the anti Semitic card ain't going to cut it.

Just as it doesn't cut it with the truth behind the USS Liberty:

Oh, you want to suck your thumbs and hate Muslims and deny America has commited many crimes:

U.S. apologizes for 1940s medical experiments on Guatemalans injected with STDs

1958-1990: Operation Gladio, Italy

Operation Ajax

Operation Northwoods

Before the truth is universally acknowledged a few more false flag attacks will be made in an attempt to rally people liked frightened sheep behind the sham of corrupt government protection.

My guess is Chicago is the next target. Rahm Emanuel has rushed of to be the mayor of Chicago, so he can do for the Willis Tower, (formerly named Sears Tower) what Rudy Giuliani did for the Twin Towers in New York.

Filipe   November 24th, 2010 7:44 pm ET

John A,

Since you hate the United States so much. And you claim that you are not an America. Exactly what is it that your native country has done that you are proud of.

I have never seen you post a single item of criticism on any of your frequented blogs of anyone except the US and Israel.

Your not fooling anyone. If you were really not an American, you'd be whining and crying about your own country's participation in the exact same areas of conflict as the US.

But you say nothing, nada, zip, nyet, rein, nic...... go figure !!!

Amy Timepiece   December 13th, 2010 3:43 pm ET

I can't help but wonder what makes the terrorists think that they are immune from "Thou shalt not kill"? One would think that suicide killers will be in for one rude awakening when they meet the Lord (doubtful) at the pearly gates and attempt to explain their actions in killing not only soldiers, but innocent civilians. It is far more likely that said terrorists will be dragged away, kicking and screaming, by those who work for the not-so-nice opposite spiritual being. Both do exist whether one wants to believe it or not.
While defending what they perceive to be the only one true religion, I do not ever recall reading where Mohammed was raised from the dead. Hmmmm... It is more likely that Mohammed is a relative of Marduk written about in the book "Enki". Marduk was the evil extraterrestrial that inhabited the earth many millinea ago or so Mr. Sitchin says.
The Quaran teaches/preaches that followers of Mohammed should "side" with the infidels and appear to be friendly on the outside while harboring hatred on the inside until a time the follower deemed it "safe" to do away with said infidel. Seriously. It IS one of the scriptures!
There is a major takeover taking place all over the world. It is no longer politically correct to speak of religion in nearly any first world country. Doing so may tick off a Muslim thereby causing conflict with those citizens who believe that siding with the Muslims, they are showing and offering equality in religious beliefs. Hogwash!
The United States was built on Christian beliefs and it is those Christian beliefs that made this country the greatest in the world...well, until those who have forced politicians into a corner making it politically incorrect.
The citizens of the United States are all walking dillusionals. Sure, go to Disney, go on the Carribean cruise, nothing is wrong with our country. Nothing is wrong at all. Wake up America! Get your heads out of the holes in the ground or out of your as....s as it were.
Why on earth are we allowing the "book head" politicians who have no commen sense at all drive our country into the ground?
Our goverment has become so large that it is duplicating itself times over. It's time to take back America. It's time to force the politicians to own up the hype that got them into their cushy government jobs. If they don't do what they say they'll do before being voted in, nag them until they do.
We have been lied to so many times that we all just start believing just about anything that is thrown at us. The media only publishes what the media deems noteworthy and oftentimes those noteworthy publications are far from the real truth.
The government is spending your childrens, your grandchildrens and your great-grandchildrens future by "giving", not loaning, so much money to other governments that we have no idea how it will all be paid back and no one in political office has a real answer about how it can be done either.
So yeah, let's all go to Disney. Let's all pretend all is well in our "safe" lives. Keep your head in a hole until the day the terrorists strike our country with such force that we wil all be in the same situation as the citizens in the Middle East.
Your President lied to you about his religion and he lied about his birthplace; make no mistake, but hey, what's a little lie among friends, right?
So go shopping with your friend the Muslim or go to Disney with your Muslim family friends until they day they turn on you when the terrorists strike.
Wake up America.

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