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Has Al Qaeda Changed its Base? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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An official who is a close observer of the Al Qaeda network believes that the organization has begun to shift its activities to Yemen, in addition to its strong presence in Iraq. The movement’s migration from Afghanistan is practically aiming to surround the Gulf region, which Al Qaeda considers its first and last goal.

The recent thwarted operations in Saudi Arabia and the arrests of terrorist cells is primary evidence that Al Qaeda has expanded, and perhaps shifted, its activities, which indicates that we are about to enter a third stage of the war on terror. The battle began early in Saudi Arabia but Al Qaeda suffered successive defeats and was thus forced to spread its wings abroad. It seems that after having been restricted, it has decided upon a change in strategy.

The aforementioned official believes that Yemen may replace Afghanistan as the incubator to breed, rally and train [terrorists]. In practice, Yemen could become the new Al Qaeda base  a label once reserved for Afghanistan. The official’s assumptions were confirmed by new activity carried out in the rugged mountains of Yemen that proved to be testing even for the skilled Yemeni forces that best knew their land.

This was evident through the battles with the al Houthi groups that fortified their strength in the mountains over several months and inflicted damage on government forces. Although the Yemeni authority was able to weaken these groups, prevent their expansion and foil any influence of al Houthi members on the center of the capital and other major cities in Yemen, defeating them proved to be a very difficult matter.

If Al Qaeda has really decided to shift its center and perhaps its headquarters to the mountain peaks of northern Yemen, then we are facing a new challenge and a new phase in combat. Since it was first established, Al Qaeda has been targeting the most important country, namely, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in general as it is aware of the fact that Saudi is to the region what the heart is to the body.

Also, despite its success of spreading chaos and destruction in Iraq, Algeria, Britain and other places, it has still failed to achieve the symbolic significance, popularity and influence that it has been aspiring to since the mid-1990s. Al Qaeda believes that Yemen is an easy country; drawing evidence from the organization’s frequent ability to hide in its mountains and exploit the existing tribal dissidents, in addition to the poverty of its economy and population density. As such, Yemen is fertile ground for the breeding of new generations of Al Qaeda cells  or an alternative haven to the desolate, remote and blockaded areas of Afghanistan.

The results of this grave analysis are that the Yemeni authorities should act as a targeted regime just as Al Qaeda had targeted the Afghan regime and instigated conflict among its tribes, setting it ablaze and causing extensive foreign intervention.

Saudi Arabia, the country that is most targeted by terrorists, also has no choice other than to prepare for a new bout of terrorism that requires increased efforts in curbing potential financers who raise funds under the pretext of charitable work, and local instigators who are recruiting young men under various Islamic banners such as Iraq and Kashmir.

Perhaps the proposal of electronic [identity] cards for the entire population should be a priority and should be applied quickly. The truth is that the Saudi Ministry of Interior is one of the most advanced governmental institutions with respect to modern technology, not only in achieving security objectives but also in providing its various civil services. This is a compelling subject that deserves further examination in another article.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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