Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Yemen's resurgent al Qaeda wing

REUTERS - Suspected al Qaeda gunmen assaulted two south Yemen security offices on Wednesday in coordinated shooting attacks, police said.

The assault was the second by suspected al Qaeda gunmen on security offices in Yemen in less than a month. In June, al Qaeda attackers raided the southern regional headquarters of the political security office in Aden, killing 11 people.

Al Qaeda had called that attack revenge for a government assault.

Here are some key facts about al Qaeda in Yemen:

* Al Qaeda's Yemeni and Saudi wings announced a merger in 2009 into a new group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in Yemen. The move came after a three-year armed al Qaeda campaign in Saudi Arabia was halted in 2006 by a counter-terrorism drive.

* AQAP's Yemeni leader, Nasser al-Wahayshi, was once a close associate of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, whose father was born in Yemen, a neighbour of top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

* AQAP has threatened attacks against Westerners in the oil-exporting region and seeks the fall of the U.S.-allied Saudi royal family. Yemen's foreign minister has said that up to 300 al Qaeda militants might be in Yemen.

* AQAP claimed responsibility for a December attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound passenger plane, and said it provided the explosive device used in the failed attack. The suspected bomber, a young Nigerian man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had visited Yemen and had been in contact with militants there.

* Yemen declared open war on al Qaeda in January following the failed attack, stepping up airstrikes targeting the group. But Sanaa has come under criticism from rights groups for the strikes that also left many civilians dead.

* The United States and Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda might exploit instability in Yemen -- which also is trying to cement a truce with Shi'ite rebels in the north and quell separatist unrest in the south -- to make it a launchpad for more attacks.

* Nearly a year before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, al Qaeda bombed the U.S. warship Cole in October 2000 when it was docked in the southern Yemen port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors. Two years later an al Qaeda attack damaged a French supertanker in the Gulf of Aden.

* AQAP has since been behind a number of attacks in Yemen, including a suicide attack targeting the British ambassador in April 2010, accusing him of leading a war on Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula on Britain's behalf.

* AQAP also claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed four South Korean tourists in Yemen in 2009.

* In August 2009, an AQAP suicide bomber tried to kill Prince Mohammed bin Nayef who heads Saudi Arabia's anti-terrorism campaign. It was the first known attack on a member of the Saudi royal family since al Qaeda began its violent campaign in the kingdom in 2003.

* In 2008, two suicide bombers set off a series of blasts outside the heavily fortified U.S. embassy in Sanaa, killing 16 people including the attackers. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by a group called Islamic Jihad in Yemen, which analysts said was linked to al Qaeda.

* U.S. officials have said the Pentagon plans to boost U.S. military assistance to Yemen's special operations forces to lead an offensive targeting AQAP.

* U.S. officials have said Washington has authorised the CIA to kill or capture a leading figure linked to the group -- U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. AQAP threatened the United States with more attacks should he be harmed.