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New York Times: Many Yemenis See Terror as Business Model, Not Ideology

Yumpin' Yemeni Troops (photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo on Flickr)

In a remarkable article in Thursday’s New York Times, we find a very interesting analysis of some of the forces at play in Yemen, where the United States has decided that its largest al Qaeda threat now resides. According to the Times  article, Yemenis take reports of al Qaeda presence with a sizable dose of skepticism, ascribing much of the internal violence as a mixture of secessionist movements and the “business” of terrorism, where groups first foment violence and then take government money in return for making it stop.

Here is the central finding of the analysis:

In a sense, there are two narratives about Al Qaeda in Yemen. One of them, presented by both the Yemeni government and Al Qaeda’s Internet postings — and echoed in the West — portrays a black-and-white struggle between the groups. The other narrative is the view from the ground in Yemen: a confusing welter of attacks by armed groups with shifting loyalties, some fighting under political or religious banners, some merely looking for money.

The Yemeni authorities have long paid tribal leaders to fight domestic enemies, or even other tribes that were causing trouble for the government. That policy has helped foster a culture of blackmail: some tribal figures promote violence, whether through jihadists or mere criminals, and then offer to quell it in exchange for cash.

“Some of what looks like Al Qaeda is really terror as a business,” Mr. Faqih said.

Hmmm. “Terror as a business” sounds remarkably like Erik Prince’s business model, as well.

Now that the elections have finally ended in the US, it will be interesting to see how much attention Yemen gets from Obama and his “anti-terrrorism” forces. The attitude in Yemen regarding the toner bombs was very different from the US media’s panic-stricken reporting on the incident:

“This latest episode with the packages is only making it worse,” said Mr. Faqih, the Sana University professor. “Many people think it was all about the elections in the U.S., or an excuse for American military intervention here.”

Will there be more toner bombs? Will we see an escalation of drone attacks in Yemen like those in Pakistan? Stay tuned.

Update: And in other news from the New York Times, YouTube is being pressured into removing videos featuring Anwar al-Maliki:

Under pressure from American and British officials, YouTube on Wednesday removed from its site some of the hundreds of videos featuring calls to jihad by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born, Yemen-based cleric who has played an increasingly public role in inspiring violence directed at the West.

Last week, a British official pressed for the videos to be removed and a New York congressman, Anthony Weiner, sent YouTube a letter listing hundreds of videos featuring the cleric. The requests took on greater urgency after two powerful bombs hidden in cargo planes were intercepted en route from Yemen to Chicago on Friday, with the prime suspect being the Yemen-based group Mr. Awlaki is affiliated with, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In an e-mail, Victoria Grand, a YouTube spokeswoman, said that the site had removed videos that violated the site’s guidelines prohibiting “dangerous or illegal activities such as bomb-making, hate speech, and incitement to commit violent acts,” or came from accounts “registered by a member of a designated foreign terrorist organization,” or used to promote such a group’s interests.

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Jim White

Jim White

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