x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Death of bin Laden likely to shift leadership of al Qa'eda to Yemen

With the death of Osama bin Laden, Yemen could become the hub for al Qa¿eda with militants taking advantage of the country's instability.

SANA'A // The death yesterday of Osama bin Laden is likely to shift the leadership of the terror group al Qa'eda to Yemen, analysts said.

Yemen, bin Laden's ancestral homeland, could become the al Qa'eda hub with the militants taking advantage of the country's ongoing instability and scattershot security network. Experts anticipate heightened activity from Yemen-based al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has already made two attempted attacks on the United States since 2009.

AQAP is now considered the biggest terrorist threat to international security, according to a White House spokesman, and under the leadership of Yemeni-American jihadist cleric Anwar al Awlaqi, terror experts believe the mountains of Yemen could be the next Tora Bora - bin Laden's former hideout in Afghanistan.

Mr Awlaqi has been described by experts as epitomising a new generation of al Qa'eda leadership that prefers using Yemen as its stronghold.

"The next terror hub is expected to be Yemen, and Awlaqi has been the face of the group in many of the groups' video postings," said Nabil Bukairi, director of Abaad Centre for Research and Studies in Yemen.

"This is a turning point for the fight against terror," Mr Bukairi added.

AQAP has already proven to be a nimble adversary, capable of staying one step ahead of well-funded US intelligence agencies. Dating back to the attack that nearly sunk the USS Cole in 2000 in Yemen's Aden harbour, the group has shown that its operational capabilities are not static, its thinking not stale.

"Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula has ironically proven to be better than either Yemen or the US as a learning organisation," said Edmund J Hull, author of the forthcoming book, High-Value Target: Countering al Qa'eda in Yemen. Mr Hull, the US ambassador to Yemen from 2001 to 2004, said the group "has consistently learned from its mistakes and adapted".

Since merging with al Qa'eda's Saudi Arabian affiliate in 2009, the organisation has used Mr Awlaqi and fellow US citizen Samir Khan to deliver messages aimed at inspiring and attracting Western jihadists. The group has demonstrated it can get explosives aboard cargo and commercial planes despite tight security. Such flexibility allows it to strike at its choosing and move outside the al Qa'eda bureaucracy formerly controlled by bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.

The death of bin Laden could also have an effect on Yemen's current political situation. The president of more than 30 years, Ali Abdulah Saleh, has so far clung to power despite three months of mass protests that have led to the deaths of at least 140 demonstrators.

Ali Abdul Jabbar, a Yemeni political analyst, explained the anti-government protest movement was last week very close to ousting Mr Saleh, but that scenario has been altered by the killing of bin Laden. Mr Jabbar now expects Mr Saleh to stay in power at least until the end of the year.

"The United States cannot allow transfer of power during these critical times, especially that those leading the revolution in Yemen are pro-Islamist parties," said Mr Abdul Jabbar.

"Saleh has been a major ally in the US fight against terror and today is when the US needs him most."

Saber Kareem, an expert in Islamic affairs, said that when dealing with ideological groups the death of a leader has the potential to make groups stronger. In Yemen, according to Mr Kareem, after Houthi spiritual leader Hussein al-Houthi was killed, the group doubled in power. "Ideologies do not die with the death of their leader, they grow and expand. The ideology of al Qa'eda will continue through the thousands of its members," said Mr Kareem.

Yet not all Yemenis view the death of bin Laden in terms of the domestic terrorist movement. Hareth Showkani, one of the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, thinks the death of bin Laden will decrease the threat of attacks and interference from Western powers.

"We expect less US attacks on so-called al Qa'eda targets after bin Laden's death as the movement is now handicapped and gasping its last breath," said Mr Showkani. "If US attacks continue, it will force the Muslim world to picture the US as an enemy."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press