Following terrorist threats, Yemeni security personnel stop a car in a street nearby the US embassy in Sana'a on Tuesday. Mohammed al Qadhi / The National
Mohammed al Qadhi, Foreign Correspondent
SANA’A // An announcement that Saudi and Yemeni militants have joined forces has sparked concern that al Qa’eda has regrouped and is gearing up for a new wave of attacks.
“I expect that this year will be the year of al Qa’eda. The militants started strongly by releasing a videotape and merging Saudi and Yemeni cells into one group,” said Abdulellah Haidar, a Yemeni journalist who specialises in al Qa’eda and Islamic movements.
“I do, therefore, expect this year will witness a series of attacks for al Qa’eda against key installations, mainly oil and foreign interests. This has been very clear in their new videotape.”
In the videotape, posted last Friday on the internet, al Qa’eda announced that Said Ali al Shihri, a Saudi national recently released from Guantanamo Bay after spending nearly six years inside the US prison camp, is now the No 2 of al Qa’eda in the Arabian Peninsula, which groups militants in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
The announcement came as Barack Obama, the new US president, ordered the detention facility closed within a year. Haidar, who interviewed the group’s leader, Nasser al Wahishi, about 10 days ago at an undisclosed location, said the appearance of the leaders in the video without covering their faces demonstrated a challenge to both Yemeni and Saudi regimes.
“When such people wanted by the intelligence uncover their faces, it means they are strong and that nobody can reach them. I have met them and spoke to them. They were confident of their ability. I also saw [during the interview] a number of young militants in their twenties from different nationalities, including Saudis. The government announces every now and then new arrests, but what I have seen shows these people are recruiting more and more fighters,” Haidar said.
The involvement of Mr al Shihri in the group demonstrates they are no longer local but involving militants from different nationalities. The government announced last week it had shut down a new cell that was plotting an attack. One of those killed was a Saudi national, it said.
“A Saudi plot to launch attack in Sana’a means a lot. This indicates what is coming will be worse and that they will hit from Sana’a to Riyadh,” Haidar said. Haider’s interview with Mr al Wahishi was published in the weekly Annass newspaper on Monday.
During the interview, Mr al Wahishi said they would attack oil facilities and western interests, tourists and even soldiers protecting these installations. Naser al Bahri, a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, said these threats should be taken seriously.
“These people will carry out painful attacks. They have announced that they will and they must carry them out or they will lose credibility with their funding agencies. They might carry out assassinations against foreigners and key security officials as well as oil installations,” said Mr al Bahri, who was imprisoned after the USS Cole attack in Aden in 2000 and was released after renouncing violence.
He said a group of former al Qa’eda militants plans to meet with the militants to convince them to renounce violence.
“Danger is looming as these people will use the loose security situation in Yemen, unlike in Saudi Arabia, to carry out attacks. We have a plan to conduct dialogue with them to calm down this tense situation,” Mr al Bahri said.Haidar said he believes the message in the videotape also hoped to exploit the conflict in Gaza in an attempt to win support.
“Many people went to the streets across the region, demanding jihad against Israel. This group offers the option as it recruits new militants under the pretext of fighting infidels. In this way, they will be able to recruit more militants,” he said. He also said al Qa’eda is able to make use of the instability in Yemen, where the government is facing unrest in the north and south, a political storm and increasing economic hardship.
Four days after the release of the tape, the US Embassy in Sana’a said it had received terrorist threats. Streets leading to the embassy were closed and security around other embassies and key installations was tightened. That night, shots were fired between Yemeni security forces and unknown gunmen, an embassy spokesman said.
The interior ministry said the shooting had nothing to do with the threat on the embassy. The government has not commented on the latest video. Yemen suffered a series of terrorist attacks in 2008 mostly targeting foreigners and embassies, including the Sept 17 attack on the US Embassy that killed 18 people.