Monday, 1 November 2010

Yemen's al-Qaida seeking to recruit Westerners

SAN'A, Yemen -- Al-Qaida in Yemen, suspected in the thwarted mail bombing attempt, appears to be aggressively seeking to recruit American and European radicals who could provide an entry way for the group to carry out attacks in their homelands.

Yemen provides a potentially easy entry point for foreign radicals to link up with al-Qaida, with a number of popular Islamic religious and Arabic-language schools that attract students from around the world.

Already there has been at least one confirmed case - the young Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly used a San'a language school as a cover to enter the country and meet with al-Qaida militants for training, before he made a botched attempt to blow up an American passenger jet on Christmas Day.

Since then, Yemeni security forces have cracked down, arresting a dozen Americans and an assortment of Europeans on suspicion of contacts with al-Qaida.

Evidence that those arrested actually contacted al-Qaida is sketchy, and some were likely caught up in the intensified Yemeni search. Two of the arrested Americans have since been deported and an unspecified number have been released, Yemeni security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the cases.

But concern is high over the potential for al-Qaida's affiliate in this country to recruit militants with American or European passports. Among the senior figures in the group is the U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whose English-language sermons advocating jihad, or holy war, against the United States have inspired a number of Western-born militants.

Al-Awlaki, who the U.S. has put on a list of militants to kill or capture, was in e-mail contact with the Army psychiatrist accused of last year's deadly shooting spree at the Fort Hood, Texas military base. U.S. investigators say he also helped prepare Abdulmutallab for his failed attempt to bomb the Detroit-bound airliner.

The group has also issued an English-language Web magazine called Inspire. In its second issue, posted in October, a young American militant, Samir Khan - believed to be the magazine's producer - boasted how he had moved to Yemen from his home in North Carolina and joined al-Qaida's fighters, pledging to "wage jihad for the rest of our lives."

Another American, Sharif Mobley - a 26-year-old from New Jersey of Somali descent - went on trial last week for killing a Yemeni soldier during an escape attempt in March. Mobley had been arrested originally for suspected links to al-Qaida, and while being treated in a hospital, he reportedly convinced a guard to unshackle him, then grabbed a guard's gun and opened fire.

In June, a German national was said by the government to be among four detained in connection with a failed suicide bombing targeting the British ambassador two months earlier.

So far, Yemeni and U.S. investigators have not said whether Western-born militants in Yemen were directly involved in plotting or carrying out the latest plot, in which two explosive devices hidden in packages addressed to Chicago-area synagogues were mailed from Yemen and intercepted Friday on planes transiting through Dubai and Britain.

Al-Qaida in Yemen is widely thought to have some 300 core fighters, most of them Yemenis and Saudis.

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