There are many solutions various governments have written into policies in counter-terrorism efforts as terrorists continue to dig their heals into a moral high ground that has consumed lives in many parts of the world. Many who study religious terrorism understand that the battleground was not drawn by religions, but by the interpretation of those whose fever for fanaticism prevails. In response, this ferocity has called upon itself moderates and centrists who want to write an epitaph to such self-righteousness, who want to see the end of the bloodshed.
In particular, it is worth noting that while counter-terrorism efforts, specifically rehabilitation policies in countries in the Middle East may be controversial, they have had mixed results and necessarily must respond to attacks, or failed attacks. Rehabilitation and deradicalization of Islamist extremists is only one of the solutions being used in the war against fanaticism and its outcome, terror. And now it is once again being considered too soft of a solution among the many criminal justice solutions that counter-terrorism policies have in their arsenal. Terrorism has brought into question governments’ efficacy in various ways and unfortunately, somehow terrorist grievances have become believable to those finding themselves in the position of having to figure out what is going on in this war on terror.
We might venture to say that terrorists have one advantage: their arguments are more emotional and require a good hard critical look at what muscle and enforcement criminal justice systems around the world actually have. They may also have one other advantage, and that is that grouping together on common anger is an easier job than forming arguments that allow for debate and change, keeping in mind the policies, regulations and laws that serve that purpose. Finally, the choice for eye-for-an-eye fighting is one that many understand and subscribe to leading to a perpetual conflict cycle, even by those who participate in non-violent debates about religion’s role in society and morality, but complain about the world around them in a way that is not deemed as radical. This article also considers the breeding grounds that contribute to the decision to join groups that promote radical ideologies as opposed to democratic means to pursue economic justice and non-violence to bring to light needs and concerns. In the meantime, their grievances oftentimes become irrelevant when housed in a cycle of violence that has violated the dreams of so many to live peacefully, without constant fear. This is true in particular when facing other issues that are interwoven with issues of poverty, greed, and lack of structure, which can lead to a life lived within the criminal justice system.
While this comprehensive article will look at the policies and efforts in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the international community to counter terrorist threats and actions, it has resulted after reading all the media reports that followed the failed Christmas bombing. This article will also look at some of the grievances and the concerns that Al-Qaida uses to justify their terrorism, pointing out recent events that certainly will increase their devotion to their fight against those who aim to stop their militantism. Not to mention, the article includes some good news on PETN detection. In an effort to bring to the forefront counter-terrorism policies, we will also share our perspective on policies that are relevant to this discussion that discuss Guantanamo, Africa and pleas for international cooperation amongst those who are fighting fanaticism using various policy solutions hoping to achieve priority outcomes of international peace and security and economic stability.
While reading media reports and terrorism case studies in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the failed Christmas bombing, I asked a colleague of mine from Monterey Institute of International Studies with a master’s in International Policy Studies with an emphasis on security studies, Hamdan Hamedan, to contribute to this article so that we might combine efforts and provide a deep understanding of the factors that have been discussed in the myriad news stories that have emerged since that day. We are also going to share what emerged from our discussion on the possible implications of the most recent Al-Qaida claim and fill in the holes wherever they may lie.
Facts as we know them until now as presented through media:
The international media has presented various perspectives on the failed attempt, and combining media reports is useful in seeing the facts apart from the understandable concerns that have arisen and the quickness to liken the failed bombing to September 11th. Questioning the comparison is constructive, as the failed bombing was not a deliberate attempt to conceal information – an attempt that was the outcome of a highly competitive environment between security agencies that was preferred to an inter-agency approach that would more than likely have provided a unified collective approach on a common global threat to international peace and security.
The facts of that day and the days leading up to the flight as they have been presented in the media are as follows. A Nigerian man named Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab boarded a Northwest Airlines flight (#253) in Amsterdam, Netherlands to Detroit, Michigan, with explosives in his underwear. He paid cash for his tickets that were purchased on December 16th. He boarded wearing PETN along with TATP concealed in his underwear or attached to his leg. It is worth noting that Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) tried to “kill Saudi prince and counterintelligence chief Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in August 2009 and used the same technique — an underwear bomb — and the same PETN explosive that Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab tried to use in his attempted Christmas Day attack.”
A passenger aboard the plane, Jasper Shuringa, heard a pop and saw smoke and climbed over passengers to restrain the terrorist. Abdulmutallab had burns on his legs from the mixed in-flight bomb making components. Abdulmutallab, who studied at a British university and has been charged. His bomb never detonated. The flight landed safely in Detroit during the busy holiday season.
Questions arise: Was anyone waiting to greet Abdulmutallab at the Detroit airport to see what chaos might have ensued? Did he have any connections in Detroit? Was there anyone on that flight who was the real target of the bombing?
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the failed bombing a few days later. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), on December 28, 2009, AQAP released a statement titled “The Operation of Brother Mujahid Umar Farouk the Nigerian in Response to the American Attack in Yemen,” on the jihadist website Shumukh Al-Islam that claimed responsibility for the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day.
Since the increased attention on Yemen and Yemen’s increased efforts to attack Al-Qaida after AQAP claimed responsibility for the failed Christmas bombing, conflicting reports have been circulating. It is still unclear whether or not the Yemeni government has been successful in neutralizing the top operatives of AQAP in their most recent attacks. Soon after AQAP claimed responsibility for the failed bombing, Yemeni forces raided Al-Qaida hideouts and set off a gun battle in western Yemen.
Yemen’s Interior Ministry claims that al-Shihri, one of the top operatives of AQAP, has been apprehended.
Al-Raymi, one of the top operatives of AQAP, was reportedly killed in a jet raid on an Al-Qaida hideout by the Yemeni government on January 15, 2010.
However, since that report, Al Jazeera has reported that travel restrictions have been placed on both Al-Raymi and AQAP’s leader after the Security Council’s sanctions committee made its decision.
According to the Saudi Gazette, both Al-Oufi’s and al-Shihri’s families and friends have denounced them as “irreversible deviant members of society.” The Saudi Gazette shares what the families have to say about what has driven these men to their radical actions.
Yemen has increased its military attacks on Al-Qaida. Counter-terrorism policies around the world are attracting much-needed attention.
Latest About PETN detection:
Before airports are all equipped with body scanners, wait!
Up until very recently detecting pentaerythritol tertranitrate (PETN) has been impossible. It usually exists in powder form. A company out of Santa Barbara, California has changed that after it conducted a series of development tests involving the detection of trace levels of explosives PETN, RDX, TNT and ammonium nitrate. SpectraFluidics Inc. has developed a sensing technology that can detect individual explosive molecules in the air without swabs or reagents or require a whole body scan or a strip search.
The new product is scheduled to be released this year and can be configured to be a portal type system or a hand-held device. Professors and researchers from the mechanical engineering and chemistry departments out of the University of California, Santa Barbara invented the new technology. SpectraFluidics was formed as the commercial entity.
Brief Background information
Not the usual character profile of Al-Qaida rank and file. However, it fits the characteristics of leaders of Al-Qaida such as Bin Laden and Zawahiri, who both came from privileged and wealthy families and were well educated. He was a wealthy, privileged, and educated student from the University College London, and was a student in mechanical engineering between September 2005 and June 2008. According to news reports and Yemeni officials, Abdulmutallab met with a radical American-Yemeni cleric linked to Al-Qaida and the alleged Fort Hood shooter. The name of the cleric is Anwar al-Awlaki. Apparently, Abdulmutallab also met with other Al-Qaida operatives.
According to Nigerian News, he joined Al-Qaida while studying in Britain. He was the president of the UCL’s Islamic Society in 2007. At that time, he organized a 5-day series of lectures and seminars titled “War on Terror” where Guantanamo detainees and human rights lawyers spoke. He continued his education in Dubai at an Australian university. Afterwards, he went to Yemen to study at the Sana’a Institute for the Arabic Language at which time he cut off communication with relatives.
According to news reports, Abdulmutallab’s father, a Nigerian banker, told officials at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria that Abdulmutallab may pose a threat. Then, the embassy put him into a master database of non-specific threat information called TIDE. TIDE is run by the National Counterterrorist Center. He was not put in the Terrorist Screening Database because there are different criteria for both databases. Here’s where a lot of speculation has been born. What criteria must be met in order for a suspect to be put in the Terrorist Screening Database, which does allow officials to put someone on a no-fly list or revoke a visa? It needs specific derogatory information, not just a call from someone who may be calling to be deceptive or stir the pot with no known specific information. Congress decides the criteria.
According to the Times Online, he is the fourth president of a London student Islamic society to face terrorist charges in three years.
He was denied a visa last May when he tried to study “life coaching” at a non-existent college in Britain.
News stories have described that he obtained the PETN during his travel to Yemen where he received the terrorist instruction and explosives.
About the President of Yemen:
In order to gain a political perspective on the loyalties in Yemen, it’s important to know a little about the history of the current President, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The UAE’s The National describes a leader who was born to a tribal peasant family, who joined the army when he was 16 and became a marshal. He became the president of North Yemen in 1978. He presided over the unification of North Yemen and the Marxist south in 1990. However, during the conflict, he formed an alliance with salafists and Arab militants who had been welcomed back from Afghanistan several years earlier during the fight against the Soviet Union.
According to many researchers, since 1990, Saleh has relied on a strong Salafist-jihadi movement. According to some analysts, including Stratfor’s analysis (“Yemen: Intensifying Problems for the Government” May 7, 2009), the Yemenis are now living with the backlash of a state policy used in 1994 when the Yemeni government used the Salafist-jihadis movement to crush the southern socialists in a civil war. The backlash is still ongoing since Saleh continues to rely heavily on a large number of Salafist-jihadists who are given authority within the Yemeni power structure. The south remains largely secular and the rebellion in the north is largely Shiite and overtures to Iran to intervene have been reported in the news.
Several officials from around the world have commented on the northern and eastern provinces in Yemen being rife for penetration for Al-Qaida, including former U.S. ambassador to Yemen Edmond Hall.
In September 2009, the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor reported that Yemen’s President accused Iraq’s Sadrists and Iran of backing the northern insurgency following offers from the Iranian government and Iraq’s militant Shi’ite leader Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr to mediate the ongoing fight between his government and the rebels in the north.
According to some analysts, in response, Saudi Arabia has stepped up its military offensive against the rebels in order to prevent the spread of Iran’s influence among the rebels in the north who want to spread instability in Yemen.
About Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP):
AQAP was involved in the failed Christmas bombing. AQAP is a merger that occurred between Al-Qaida Yemen and the now defunct Al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia and according to reports, the merger occurred in late January 2009. We know this from the video of the statement of the new leader of AQAP, Nasir Al-Wahayshi. He was the leader of Al Qaida in Yemen before the merger to make AQAP. It has been reported that he was the former secretary to Osama bin Laden himself. In the January 2009 video, Al-Wahayashi declared that the Saudi branch of Al Qaida declared loyalty to him, which resulted in the creation of a new organization that combined Al Qaida in Yemen and Al Qaida in Saudi Arabia and formed AQAP. The merger has become the symbolic joining of the two branches. This indicates that the Saudi branch has weakened.
In the January 2009 video, three other AQAP top operatives also appeared. They are: Qasim Al-Raymi (the military commander of AQAP), and two others who were previously released from Guantanamo. The names of the two detainees who were released from Guantanamo are: Abu al-Hareth Muhammad al-Oufi (a.k.a. Muhamad Attik Al-Harbi) and Said Ali Jabir Al Khatim Al Shihri. Al-Oufi was captured in Pakistan in 2001 and sent to Guantanamo – his Guantanamo prisoner number was 333. He was captured in February 2009 and turned himself in to authorities, then was handed to Saudi Arabia. Some reports say that he was caught and some say that the people who were protecting him sold him out. Al-Shihri was prisoner # 372 Gauntanamo. Both of them were released from Guantanamo in 2007 into the Saudi government’s deradicalization program for militants and who left the program within weeks. (More about Al-Shihri and Al-Oufi in the next section)
It is a well-reported fact that the Saudi Arabian government has significantly undermined the organization by killing and capturing so many of Al-Qaida operatives. The result has been that Al-Qaida Saudi Arabia has not done a significant attack since February 2006 when they attacked an oil facility in Abqaiq.
Trying to understand the rationale behind the merger, we believe that since it is difficult to develop a solid base in Saudi Arabia and since Al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia has been significantly damaged, Yemen has appeared as a more conducive environment for militants to operate, relatively speaking. Yemen is considered by some to be a collapsing state. It also has a growing arms market and a dominant tribal culture where there are many parts of the country where government cannot really exert its influence. Because there is a fight for loyalty of the people, Al-Qaida takes advantage of the lack of trust in the government and continues to downgrade the legitimacy of the government.
The importance of Al-Qaida’s Sad Al-Malahim is that there have been tell-tale signs of upcoming violence in the form of calls to militants to mount their attacks. In November 2009, Al-Wahayshi called on militants to use household materials to make bombs in order to attack airports and trains in the West. The call includes bomb instructions and preferred targets as well as promotes the use of knives and sticks on media.
About Africa in relation to the Al-Qaida mission:
Scattered media attention on Africa and its attractiveness to Al-Qaida has been the norm. However, ever since the failed bombing, think tanks and terrorist experts have started to look at signs within Africa in countries like Nigeria that demonstrate the breeding grounds for terrorism that Al-Qaida could exploit. There is a large number of restless, alienated youth who may seek to build their identity amongst radical fanatics like Al-Qaida. Terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaida have operated in Somalia in the past. In 2004, the Washington Post focused on areas of Africa that would be attractive safe havens to Al-Qaida. One year earlier, the BBC showed that there were new details that linked Al-Qaida with the illicit “blood diamond” trade in Africa.
In 2007, J. Peter Pham, Ph.D., Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs and author, wrote “Al-Qaida’s Franchise in Africa,” where he argued that Al-Qaida was setting its sights on Africa as the venue of choice for future operational bases as they continue to be rooted out of Afghanistan, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula.
More recently, Al Jazeera (January 4, 2010) reported that an offshoot of Al-Qaida has emerged in the deserts of North Africa, claiming an area called the Sahara Emirate.
Among many news reports about Al-Qaida, one that might have caught many people’s attention is the fact that African Al-Qaida is demanding the release of four of its members in exchange for Pierre Cammatte, a Frenchman who was taken from his hotel by gunmen in Mali in November. They demand that the four members be released within 20 days (starting January 10th) according to Intelcenter, a Washington-based monitoring group that monitors Islamist websites.
Another Al-Qaida group that is important is Al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) which was recently in the news as it claimed responsibility for kidnapping two Italians in Mauritania for what it sees as Italy’s crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under the leadership of Al-Wahayshi:
Al-Wahayshi was the former secretary of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and resurrected Al-Qaida in Yemen, which he has helped centralize. As a result of his imprisonment, he has vowed to repay those who tortured him and his comrades with death. Some experts have said that this no-holds-barred approach is not usually what comes out of Yemen, where negotiations and compromise are much more common. Al-Wahayshi’s underlying philosophy is: “Jihad is a religious duty that God has made incumbent.”
His real name is Said Ali Jabir Al Khatim Al Shihri, and he was born in Riyadh in 1973. In 2000, he went to Afghanistan and trained at the Libyan training camp north of Kabul. The U.S. believed that he planned to provide financial support in the sum of 7,000 Saudi Riyals to other fighters traveling from Bahrain to Afghanistan. He was captured in Pakistan in December 2001 and sent to Guantanamo prison. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on November 9, 2007. He went through a Saudi rehabilitation and reintegration program for former jihadists. He went to Yemen with al-Oufi after the rehabilitation program. He appeared on the AQAP’s video in January 2009 along with the leader of AQAP, al-Raymi, and al-Oufi, where he was introduced as the Deputy Emir of AQAP. He is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, in September 2008. His wife and daughter live in Al-Namas, Saudi Arabia.
His real name is Mohamed Atiq Awayd al-Harbi. He was born in Riyadh in 1973. He was captured in Pakistan in 2001 and sent to Guantanamo. He was released form Guantanamo in November 2007 and sent back to Saudi Arabia, where he was put through a rehabilitation program. After the rehabilitation program, his family reported that he was picked up from the house by Al-Shahri and they both went to Yemen. His mother believes that Al-Shahri played an important part in radicalizing his son. He appeared on the AQAP video in January 2009 along with AQAP’s leader, al-Raymi and al-Shahri, where he was introduced as Al-Qaida’s Arabian Peninsula Field Commander. Both al-Shahri and al-Oufi are on the list of 85 wanted militants released by the Saudi Ministry of Interior in February 2009. An Interpol alert was subsequently issued for the 85 men, most of whom are aged between 20 and 35, and have reportedly left Saudi Arabia, probably for Iraq or Afghanistan. On February 18, 2009, al-Oufi turned himself in to authorities in Sana’a and then later he was handed over to Saudi Arabia. This incident is somewhat peculiar considering that just a month ago he appeared on the AQAP’s propaganda video as the Field Commander. Another report has stated that he was caught by the Yemeni authorities with direct Saudi assistance. Accordingly, Saudi counter-terrorism forces were most likely responsible for his capture. Others allege that he was sold out by the tribe that was sheltering him, a claim supported by the Yemeni President’s recent appeal to tribal leaders to hand over terrorist suspects.
Grievances being stated:
AQAP has an online journal called Sad Al-Malahim (the Echo of Battle), which offers some insight about the group’s operational doctrine and target selection. AQAP claimed that it will construct training camps in Yemen for fighters who wish to join the jihad in the Gaza Strip. The group declared, “From here we start and in Aqsa we meet!” In addition, the group plans on cutting supply lines of Western nations supporting Israel. Furthermore, AQAP promises attacks on oil facilities, tourists, and security forces. It is worth noting that on March 16, 2009, AQAP carried out a suicide attack on a group of South Korean tourists in Yemen, killing four of them. Additionally, AQAP was behind a suicide attack that occurred two days later against a convoy of South Koreans who had arrived to investigate tourist deaths.
Other grievances include Crusader wars, torture of detainees, the war on terror and Zionist regimes.
Who else has called to meet in Aqsa?
Other groups who have said that they will meet at al-Aqsa have also been in the news. For instance, Hamas’ Prime Minister in the Gaza Ismail Haniyeh told Arab Israelis the same thing at a recent rally at the Erez crossing, in December, where hundreds of Israeli Arabs, left-wing activists and international political activists met to protest the siege in the Gaza Strip. Haniyeh was outspoken at the event, and one of the messages that he sent, included reference to Aqsa, “We have managed to overcome the occupation plans and we will surely meet at the al-Aqsa Mosque and in Jerusalem, which will remain Arab and Islamic.”
Al-Aqsa is the third holiest sites for Muslims. Some terrorism experts have argued that while Al-Qaida members may not be sold on the idea of dying for the abstract notion of an Islamic utopia, they will die for al-Aqsa. Al-Aqsa belongs to the entire Muslim umma.
And any threat to Al-Aqsa is seen as an attack on the faith. This week, Israel has been constructing a network of tunnels that lead to the southern wall of the al-Aqsa mosque and underneath the mosque itself. It has made the Palestinian authority sound its alarm. One of the streets nearby have collapsed which has led some sheikhs to warn that the mosque itself may collapse.
According to Palestinian journalist Lhalid Amayreh, writing for Islamonline.net, when Israel occupied Jerusalem in 1967, the Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren tried to convince the conquering army to blow up the Aqsa Mosque. He argues that Jewish extremists have wanted to gain a foothold on the mosque and that this fight will continue to escalate unless there are counter measures from the Muslim world.
The religious significance and consequence of Israeli destruction of the mosque cannot be downplayed and will lead to more justifications being made by al Qaida and other militant Muslim groups for terrorist actions.
What is the implication of a FAILED attack on international peace and security?
Al-Qaida once again appears weak and irrelevant. The international community and governments cannot fail to step up efforts to counter all explosive materials with detectable equipment and increase pressure to continue to inspire Muslims around the world to rally for economic justice and security through non-violent means and find positive role-models that chose a loving caring approach to resolving life’s challenges, not one that accepts disillusion as a way of life. It may negatively impact recruitment efforts by Al-Qaida and reinforce the shame that families and friends feel toward those who are deviant and reinforce guidance that helps those who demonstrate extremism develop a better multi-disciplinary response to their grievances. It may impact other Al-Qaida chapters to improve their plans and terrorist attacks. It may marginalize Al-Qaida members from the tribal cultures that are more interested in economic opportunities than an endless moral fight. Al-Qaida looks less fearsome. Al-Qaida may try to improve its training of jihadists. However, saying all of this, the failed attack was a success in once again stalling innocent people’s lives and making many feel like hostages to terrorists who force many to live clutching the latest security technology in their hands, rather than in a world that sends terrorists into effective criminal justice systems that assess each terrorist’s rate of recidivism before exposing them to the outside world.
Is Yemen strong enough to fight Al-Qaida alone?
Simply put, Yemen does not have the capability to fight Al-Qaida alone. Its military, police, and intelligence are in need of strengthening to take on militants in its territory. One example is that Nasir Al-Wahayshi used to be in prison and escaped along with other militants. Now, he has emerged as a leader of AQAP with a very no-holds-barred revenge on his mind.
News reports are coming out that show that the number of criminals who converted to Islam in American prisons who have moved to Yemen have also increased. One of those reports cites the Senate Foreign Relations Committee report on Al-Qaida, which is to be released today. The report states that as many as three-dozen criminals fall into this category. The news report also says that according to FBI agents in Yemen tracking these ex-cons has become problematic. The report cites a concern that terrorist experts have and that has been reaffirmed by statements by Al-Qaida leaders such as Al-Wahayshi that once prisoners leave prison they are focused on revenge.
Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the U.S.:
While Saudi Arabia has more leverage in Yemen and is more influential on policy decisions and implementations than the U.S., it is interesting to take a look at U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia.
In 2003, the Council on Foreign Relations said that relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia were strained as a result of the war on terror and a congressional report that raised questions about Saudi links to extremists. Rachel Bronson at the CFR said that many Americans do not believe that Saudi Arabia is on the same side as the United States. In 2004, Prince Saud Al Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia addressed the CFR and noting the strain in US-Saudi Arabia relations also noted the importance of the strategic allegiance between the two countries. He cited the most prevalent reason for the straining relations: September 11th and the impact it has had on analysis of Saudi Arabia. He then proceeded to find ways toward mutual understanding and trust and sort through criticism and made some very valid points about how a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the United States in fact plays right into Al-Qaida’s strategic objectives. He also stressed the need for reform within the Saudi Arabian government, Arab sentiments on the situation in Palestine and its effect on public opinion in the Middle East, and called into question the U.S. choice to commit to the security of Israel when, quoting Dr. Henry Kissinger,
“Only absolute security— the neutralization of the opponent— is considered a sufficient guarantee, then the desire of one power for absolute security means absolute insecurity for all the others.”
The Prince challenged the U.S. to come up with a balanced policy towards the peace process and to get rid of the conditions that breed terrorism.
We couldn’t agree more. The role of poverty and the lack of a multi-disciplinary approach to raising each child in poverty-stricken areas all over the world too often are overlooked. While the Ministry of Education in Yemen or the Ministry of Education in Nigeria might not be able to send out pamphlets to each and every household, solutions to poverty and equipping people with the appropriate tools to fight the economic injustice that is considered to be the root of the problem that foreign policies continue to avoid resolving must be implemented. In the meantime, what is being embraced are hard-line solutions that are often violent, punitive and short-term. Long-term solutions require a commitment not to the elite of a country solely, but to those stuck in conditions of poverty that lead to the decisions that later in life can lead to a life of evasion, hate crimes and anger at governments for failing to apologize or implement policies that lend a helping hand. More studies need to be conducted on education policies in the countries mentioned and on efforts to change the conditions that lead to breeding grounds for terrorism. Let’s take a look at Saudi Arabia and its terrorism efforts considering the increased criticism and changes in foreign policies in regards to the failed rehabilitation efforts of the two AQAP Guantanamo inmates.
While rehabilitation centers often brag about their high-rate of success in deprogramming scores of former jihadis, the question remains whether the impact is lasting.
In the case of the two ex-Guantanamo inmates, recidivism rates of all rehabilitating extremists are critical to understand. A deeper analysis helps us look possibly not at these two as representative of the rehabilitation efforts themselves, but as individuals who even Guantanamo couldn’t change. No amount of punishment and rehabilitation efforts led these two terrorists toward a path of forgiveness of the West. Restorative justice was not the solution for them. However, who is to blame for this? The Saudi government? The rehab center? The successful indoctrination process that both received that managed to explain that the consequences they would face would have to be endured and that certainly they should not end their violent jihad?
First, let’s take a look at Saudi Arabia’s terrorism policies. Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, according to the Guardian UK, has been deeply involved in the campaign against violent Islamism in the kingdom – he’s been in charge of it.
The Prince offers a highly personalized form of politics to defecting Al-Qaida members – he accepts meetings with those who wish to surrender directly to him in his palace. While the article focuses on a meeting between Abdullah Asiri, who lied about his choice to renounce terrorism and showed up with a bomb inside his body that he detonated near the prince, the Prince survived. The Prince also offers financial incentives to individual jihadists and their families in return for political obedience. The article continues to explain that the rehabilitation efforts teach jihadis that without a legitimate Muslim ruler, Islam finds violent acts as sinful and punishable by God. They also monitor jihadi websites and online forums closely.
Yemen has also worked out ceasefire deals with militants who operate within Yemen. According to the Freedom in the World 2009 report published by Freedom House, in August 2008, Abdelmalek Al-Houthi, the leader of the rebellion, accepted a ceasefire proposal to end the conflict and in exchange, the government promised to open blocked roads in the region, release loyalists to Al-Houthi, and attempt to repair damages caused since the start of the conflict. However, the government has failed to live up to the ceasefire agreement, according to a Human Rights Watch 2008 report.
In 2008, only 24 days after the U.S. Embassy released their congratulation to Yemen on its successful counter-terrorism operation in Tarim to the press, where the U.S. noted that the success of the operations sent a clear message to all Yemenis that Yemen stands squarely with the international community in its determination to deny a safe haven to terrorists and extremists who use violence, it was the target to a car bomb attack.
The US Embassy in Yemen’s website describes that Yemen’s counter-terrorism efforts are handled by the Ministry of the Interior in collaboration with several agencies on the rehabilitation program for returning the detainees. A report that they make available stresses that Yemen gives priority to economic development as a part of its campaign to fight terror. How does that translate into enforcement? Legislative level law number 35 on money laundry since 2003 has been used to track and stop money laundry operations and interrupt terrorist operations. In efforts to fight the proliferating arms industry in Yemen, a new decree was issued in April 2007 to shut down shops selling weapons without a license and confiscate unlicensed weapons. The decree aimed to shut down all weapons trading stores and list and record all weapons, all trade and all storage of weapons.
News reports from Yemen shared that between 160 and 208 weapon shops were closed by June 2008 and that between 90,000 and 100,000 weapons were seized. However, according to the Yemen Observer, the weapons black market has continued. Weapons dealers have been jailed.
In 2008, the Yemen Observer reported that there were 85% fewer weapons in the streets, markets and wedding places after the anti-weapon campaign, which cited official estimates.
According to the Yemen Observer, children of Yemen demonstrated in front of the parliament building in June 2008, in order to demand approval of the law restricting the dealing and carrying of weapons, even while weapons traders tried to obstruct passage of the law. The demonstration by the children was organized by the SHAWTHAB organization, a local children’s rights organization.
Al Jazeera reported in 2007 that Yemen has spent millions of dollars through its buy-back policy, buying bombs, artillery, and even anti-aircraft guns from citizens.
In July 2009, Yemen’s government urged parliament to pass even tougher security and gun-control laws, citing that the kidnappings of Westerners and unrest were straining Yemen’s economy, according to the Reuters.
The article continues to describe a parliament that contains members with tribal backgrounds who continue to resist efforts at limiting traditional rights to bear arms.
Throughout 2009, news reports about Yemen focused on the gun culture in Yemen and the government’s efforts to limit the availability and circulation of guns through trafficking and a market that has been criminalized, while black marketers feed off of the traditional sentiment to allow arms deals.
The United States and Yemen have cooperated in coordinating counter-terrorism policies in fighting a common threat. Yemen is a recipient of between $20 and $25 million in U.S. foreign aid and the Obama administration has requested an increase for this year. According to the CRS Report for Congress, the State Department’s budget request for this year estimated $50 million ($10 million in Foreign Military Financing, $35 million in Development Assistance, $4.8 million in Global Health-Child Survival funds, and $2 million for other aid). The July 2009 CRS report cites that a lack of U.S. interest in Yemen and the tensions over counter-terrorism cooperation are recurring tensions in U.S.-Yemeni ties. It also mentions Saudi Arabia’s greater role. In counter-terrorism security cooperation, there has been an increase in U.S.-Yemeni intelligence cooperation in particular after the attack on the USS Cole. The U.S. has provided technical assistance, equipment and training to the Yemeni Central Security forces and other Yemeni Interior Ministry departments.
However, as many reports have mentioned, there is much to be desired in Yemen’s counter-terrorism policies from the perspective of many U.S. officials. U.S. officials also call into question the laws that apply to counter-terrorism. Cooperation with the United States has received much criticism from Al-Qaida operatives in Yemen who are increasingly indignant about sabotaging relations between the Islamic world and the West. Since security officials in 2009 had started to see Yemen as becoming a failed state, the importance of counter-terrorism operations has increased. However, historically, there has been a lack of strong military-to-military ties between the U.S. and Yemen and Yemen’s policies have stalled U.S. support.
Yemen has in the last decade conducted dialogue projects to increase dialogue with imprisoned Islamists to convert them from a radical and militant understanding of Islam to a moderate and peaceful understanding. So has Saudi Arabia. According to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence in their April 2009 report, “Incredible Dialogues: Religious Dialogue as a Means of Counter-Terrorism in Yemen,” the dialogue project was discontinued in 2005 when two former detainees who had been released under the project, were found fighting against American forces in Iraq. As can be expected, the failure of the program to have these two detainees denounce violence threw any success that the project saw out the window. The report continues to say that many detainees released under the project had expressed that they did not actually change their ideas. The report also states that although this dialogue project was one of Yemen’s actions against an internal threat and as proof to the American administration in 2002 that Yemen could be counted on as a tough ally on the War on Terror, the government did not have the power to effectively crush all militant networks. The report concludes that the dialogue project was flawed because it was never a dialogue, but rather a platform for a state-monologue from where the state could persuade and convert individuals who held erroneous views.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign policies, as they relate to Yemen, have been criticized by Iran. Ahmadinejad denounced Saudi Arabia’s role in the fight against the Shi’ite rebels on the Saudi-Yemeni border in November, according to Reuters. Instead, Iran suggests that Saudi Arabia was expected to act like a mentor not “themselves enter the war and use bombs, cannons and machine guns against Muslims.” Saudi Arabia is a key ally to Yemen and wants to prevent Al-Qaida from finding safe havens in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has a similar rehabilitation program to Yemeni’s rehabilitation program. It’s not clear whether the failed bombing will force a change in the rehabilitation policies of both countries. Since Saudi Arabia’s most significant threats come from Yemen, cooperating with Yemen makes for good foreign policy objectives and a good path toward securing its interests.
One of the prevalent questions in the discussions about Guantanamo is: does the U.S. close down Guantanamo given the fear that if prisoners are released it is uncertain what they will do after they’ve received the kind of treatment that they have received in prison. It’s certainly important to consider the dialogue programs that have emerged, however it would be more useful to listen to their grievances rather than repeat the same errors that have been found in flawed dialogue programs. Understanding the needs and fears of each prisoner may be more useful than spending resources on persuasion techniques that don’t work, or worse, provide even more justification for fighting repression that radicals hide behind when they do not accept the legitimacy of governments or their relevance. However, transferring Guantanamo prisoners to these governmental programs should be closely monitored and procedures and policies should show a criminal justice system that is not willing to take misjudged risks that conflict with the objectives of policies that protect and enforce international peace and security.
We agree with the Obama administration’s decision to suspend future transfers of prisoners to Yemen from Guantanamo. While closing Guantanamo appears to be an Obama administration policy objective, it remains to be seen what kind of policy will be enforced for tracking released detainees and what kind of international cooperation emerges.
Contributor: About Hamdan Hamedan:
Hamdan Hamedan received his MA in International Policy Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) with an emphasis on security studies, and has conducted research on Al-Qaida for more than three years.