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30 October 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:10am

Yemen: the American connection

Are US citizens helping al-Qaeda?

By Jonathan Derbyshire

The interception yesterday of two packages containing explosives hidden in printer cartridges has drawn the attention of the British and American governments back to Yemen (both shipments, secreted on freight planes, originated there).

President Obama said the packages were evidence of a “credible terrorist threat” and vowed that Washington would not “waver in our resolve to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates and to root out violent extremism in all its forms”.

A very interesting report in the New York Times today suggests that not only is Yemen now the principal base for al-Qaeda attacks on the United States, but that several US citizens, based in the Arabian Peninsula, are involved with the terrorist group there.

The report picks out two men for special attention: Anwar al-Awlaki, whom it describes as an “American-born cleric”, and who was a known associate of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Nigerian who tried to detonate a bomb on a flight to Detroit at Christmas last year), and a US citizen named Samir Khan:

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Al-Qaeda’s regional arm, which went quiet for several months after a series of American airstrikes in Yemen that began last December, has become more active since the spring, and has killed several dozen Yemeni soldiers and police officers.

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The group has also stepped up its recruitment drive on the internet, issuing an English-language magazine that includes articles with titles like “Make a bomb in your mother’s kitchen”. The most recent issue of the magazine, Inspire, was published last month and includes an article by an American citizen named Samir Khan titled “I am proud to be a traitor to America”. Mr Khan, who grew up in North Carolina and New York City, is believed to have joined al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch last year. One important reason for the rising concern about Yemen is the presence of Americans like Mr Awlaki and Mr Khan.

It is not clear how many Americans are working with al-Qaeda in Yemen, a group that is believed to comprise several hundred members, including some from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. The group is mostly based in the lawless provinces to the east of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, but has carried out attacks in the capital as well.