Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fear In The Air

This Editorial was published in Arab News on 30/10/2010

The latest terror plot targeting the United States is shocking, but not altogether surprising.

Also not unexpected is the Middle East (Yemen in this case) connection. The security and political situation in Yemen has been deteriorating for some time now. Deservedly or not, this Arab country has a reputation as the breeding ground of groups like Al-Qaeda. While Yemen needs to be more vigorous in its efforts to check international terror and its Arab neighbors need to do everything possible to help the government in Sanaa in this respect, the US authorities and the West should see the big picture all over again. Otherwise they would end up repeating history and mistakes of the recent past.

That this is the second plot in less than a year that has been traced back to Yemen can’t be a coincidence. The case of Umer Farouk Abdulmutallib, the Nigerian underwear bomber, who allegedly tried to blow up a US-bound airliner over the Atlantic in December is still fresh in public memory.  Ten years ago this month the USS Cole was hit by a suicide attack while it was berthed at Port of Aden in Yemen.   Seventeen sailors were killed in the attack. Two years ago, in an attack on US Embassy in Sanaa, 16 people were killed including six attackers.

Clearly, Yemen, a Texas-sized country at the confluence of Asia and Africa with a desperately impoverished population of 23 million, has emerged as a safe haven or incubator for all sorts of extremist groups that pose a clear and present danger not just to the West but Yemen, Saudi Arabia and others in the region.

With both a separatist movement and a rebellion by Shiite Houthi tribesmen raging at the same time and the government writ increasingly being challenged by myriad tribal groups and forces such as Al-Qaeda, Yemen is doubtless going through an existential crisis.  
Interestingly, many of those joining Al-Qaeda in Yemen are Americans like the fiery cleric Anwar Al Awlaki, who now carries a reward on his head, or misguided men like Abdulmutallib who either grew up in the West or have had a Western education. They claim to wage a so-called jihad against America to avenge its blind support and protection of Israel and its perceived injustices and unjust wars in the Muslim world.  

It’s hardly a coincidence, therefore, that the purported targets of the latest plot were Jewish synagogues in and around Chicago. There is a clear method in their madness. While Yemen needs all the support it can get from the US, its Arab neighbors and the world community in tackling this latest challenge to its security and sovereignty, the source of this malaise is elsewhere. 
Yemen, Saudi Arabia or for that matter Afghanistan and Pakistan, the countries facing the extremist threat, could do only so much to check, prevent and neutralize the sinister plots like these.  Imagine the terrible consequences, if this plot had reached its logical conclusion. Which US president wants to be seen “soft” on national security? But what is really needed is surgical attention to the source of this cancer and good intelligence and police work.

Meanwhile, it is heartening to learn that Yemeni authorities are checking dozens more packages in a search for the terrorists. Investigators are examining 24 other packages in the capital, Sanaa. US President Barack Obama said they would spare no effort to find the source of the packages. We hope the US would succeed in its efforts, for in the ultimate analysis this is in the interest of Yemen and its neighbors too.

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