Yemen is once again at the centre of a major terrorist threat. The Yemeni government has announced the uncovering of a major Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) plot aimed at the country’s critical oil and port infrastructure and deployed armed forces to protect potential target sites (including Western embassies in the capital, Sana'a).
What started with a world-wide US terror alert and embassy closures last week, quickly became focused on Yemen, at least in the sense that the most serious threat was located there. The UK and US not only closed their embassies (alongside France and Germany) but also withdrew diplomatic staff, and the UK urged British nationals to leave the country.
So, Yemen is again making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The current government has struggled for some time to cope with two insurgencies, in-fighting within the armed forces, and a potent threat from AQAP – widely considered as the most potent and dangerous of the terror group’s “branches” across the Middle East and North Africa. And, yet Yemen has been frequently, and so far correctly, hailed as the only one of the Arab Spring countries in which regime change has been the outcome of an internationally facilitated agreement leading to a National Dialogue Conference rather than of a violent uprising.
There are different ways of looking at this, still evolving, situation. On the one hand, there appears to be significant evidence of a major resurgence of al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Yemen and beyond. This is obvious from a number of events over the past few weeks, from the prison breaks in Libya, Iraq, and Pakistan to the continuing escalation of violence in Iraq in particular, where July saw the largest loss of life as a consequence of terrorist attacks since the height of the sectarian civil war that had gripped the country between 2006 and 2008 (and has continued at lower levels of monthly casualty figures ever since).