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Homeland Security

US Asks Yemen for Help in Fight Against al-Qaida

Carolyn Presutti | Washington, DC 05 January 2010

The United States and Britain on Monday kept their embassies in Yemen closed for a second day because of threats from a local branch of the al-Qaida terrorist network. France also closed its embassy in Yemen.

Much of the world's attention is now on Yemen, after the failed Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner, allegedly by a man with ties to al-Qaida in that country. The United States is asking Yemen for help in restricting al-Qaida's activities.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the situation a "difficult set of challenges" during a joint appearance with the prime minister of Qatar.

"The spillover effects from instability directly impact the neighbors. Obviously, we see global implications from the war in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by al-Qaida in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks far beyond the region," Clinton said.

Yemen is plagued by civil war, and a host of domestic problems.

"In Yemen, you have failing economy, you have a country running out of water, chronic unemployment, rampant inflation - all these things that need to be addressed and that aren't being addressed right now," Chris Boucek of the Carnegie Institute said.

He says Yemen may be too pre-occupied to combat international terrorism.

"I think they view what's going on in the north with the civil war or the southern secessionist movement as intrinsic threats against survival of the statem," Boucek said. "Al-Qaida or Islamic terrorists don't threaten survival of the state the same way that half the country succeeding does. So, while the Yemeni government has been eager to fight terrorism, they've done it when they feel it matches with their needs."

The United States is hoping to meet those needs with money. U.S. Army General David Petraeus met over the weekend with Yemen's president to discuss security and cooperation.

Petraeus told President Ali Abdullah Saleh that Washington will more than double its anti-terrorism aid to $140 million. But this former CIA official says because of its geography, Yemen has already emerged on the Arabian Peninsula as a key hub for al-Qaida.

"The transit of fighters, safe haven for fighters, the movement of logistical material, arms, food, documents, Yemen is perfectly placed for all those things," Michael Scheuer, former CIA official said.

The prime minister of Qatar, a peninsula neighbor of Yemen, was quick to suggest dialogue rather than fighting as a way to deal with al-Qaida in Yemen.

"We have to concentrate on the terrorism," Hamad Bin Jassim Jabr al-Thani, Qatar prime minister said. "And how we can fight the terrorism in our region and others so we don't export it somewhere else."

Some analysts agree military force could backfire and end up strengthening al-Qaida.

The United States has increased security screenings for air travelers from 14 countries, in response to the attempted December 25 bombing of a U.S. jetliner flying from Amsterdam to Detroit. The U.S. State Department considers four of those countries: Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria - state sponsors of terrorism. The other 10: fghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen - are considered countries of interest.

All air travelers arriving in the United States now face some measure of increased scrutiny.

Some passengers who were among the first to undergo increased screening said they faced extensive searches in Paris, but shorter delays at Dulles Internatonal Airport outside of Washington.

Manjushree Badlani said her departure from Paris was delayed by about an hour, but said her trip through customs at Dulles only delayed her by about seven minutes.

"They didn't examine our luggage. They sent us to agricultural inspection. She [the inspector] asked if we were carrying any food. We said 'no' and we were on our way," Badlani said.

Several travelers, who spoke to VOA, said they support the extra precautions.

Travelers facing even greater scrutiny come from, or have passed through, the 14 nations that the U.S. State Department says sponsor terrorism or are 'nations of interest'.

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