Yemen is well and truly back in the limelight once again on an international level and unfortunately, it is because of terrorism. A link has been established between extremists in Yemen and two recent attacks; [the Fort Hood shooting] carried out by a US army major, who was in contact with an American-Yemeni religious figure, at a military base, and the attempt by a young Nigerian man to blow up an American airliner that had departed from Amsterdam. This man revealed his ties with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and he had been active for some time in Yemen.
The story of Al Qaeda and Yemen is nothing new; armed extremists have been active in Yemen for a while and it has suffered because of their various forms of terrorist attacks. The Vice President of Yemen estimated that there have been approximately 66 attacks, and losses of around 150 million dollars per annum in tourism revenue, in addition to job losses etc. Al Qaeda, which has besieged Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, has been trying over the past two years to establish a foothold once again in the region to serve as its operations center, especially in Somalia and Yemen. It is capitalizing on the internal situation in Somalia – that is experiencing a state of chaos amid attempts to establish order there – and the absence of security in some parts of Yemen, as well as tribal fanaticism there and the state’s preoccupation with fighting the Huthis.
Just as history has shown, hotbeds of terrorism feed off each other, so it was inevitable after some time that the lack of control and the presence of extremists in Somalia would affect Yemen, to the degree that it threatened to send fighters over there. It was also inevitable that Al Qaeda would expand its activities abroad because it found a safe haven in Yemen, thus posing a threat not only to the region but also to international security.
This is not the first time that the threat of Al Qaeda activities in Yemen has surpassed the Yemeni borders; there was the USS Cole bombing in the Aden port before the 9/11 attacks. There were strong links between the two and between Al Qaeda in Yemen and those who carried out the 9/11 attacks. After every attack there would be international interest and pressure and international coordination to help Yemen fight terrorism. Gradually however, that interest and focus began to dwindle until a new attack occurred.
This time, Britain has called for an international conference on Yemen to be held on the sidelines of the upcoming conference on Afghanistan, which will be of a high level. It is expected to focus on two aspects; security and economy. Moreover, Washington and Britain agreed on funding a Yemeni counter-terrorism force and Washington decided to double its security aid to Yemen.
This is all good but it is not enough. It is true that there is a pressing need to support and develop Yemen’s security capabilities to eliminate terrorism hotbeds and prevent Al Qaeda from establishing a safe haven there. But what’s more important is eradicating an atmosphere that creates a lack of stability and social problems and makes it easier for sick people who instigate violence and extremism to reach their long-sought goal easily with regards to the youth, and to brainwash them and to send them on suicide missions.
However, the economic side is of paramount importance in the war on extremism and the environment that generates violence and creates a state of frustration. There is nothing like [finding] employment and feeling that there is hope for the future to protect the youth against the Sheikhs of extremism and violence who can only thrive in an atmosphere of poverty and chaos.
Therefore, in order to effectively help the Yemeni state face its current challenges and avoid following the Somali example, which would be disastrous to the entire region, it is crucial to help Yemen by co-funding its plans for development and raising the standard of living and providing services, especially education. This is the most difficult part, simply because it calls for perseverance and consistent focus and interest. We cannot reap the benefits overnight; projects need years to be implemented.