No Terrorism from Yemen.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (1986- ) grew up in Kaduna, Nigeria.  In the early 2000s, simmering Muslim-Christian conflicts boiled over in several destructive and deadly riots.  Perhaps about this time, in his early teens, Abdulmutallab became increasingly pious in his Muslim faith.  Abdulmutallab’s parents were wealthy, so he received an excellent education.  In 2004-2005 he studied Arabic at the San’a Institute for the Arabic Language in San’a, Yemen.[1]  At the same time, he attended lectures at Iman University.[2]  While studying in Britain from 2005 to 2008, his contacts with radical Islamists came to the attention of MI-5, Britain’s internal security organization.  In 2009, he obtained a visa to visit the United States.  When returning from his visit to the United States, however, Abdulmuttalab was denied re-entry into Britain and his name went on a security watch list.[3]

From August to December 2009, Abdulmutallab returned to Yemen.[4]  Soon, he made contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American renegade who played an important role in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).[5]  Awlaki carefully assessed Abdulmuttalab in a series of meetings.  Then he persuaded the young man to accept a “martyrdom operation” directed against the United States.[6]  When Abdulmuttalab accepted the mission, Awlaki supervised his preparation.  AQAP’s bomb-makers equipped Abdulmuttalab with an explosive device concealed in his underwear.  Along the way, Abumuttalab shared quarters with Said Kouachi.  At the end of the training, Awlaki advised his protégé to travel by way of an African country to disguise the fact that he had been in Yemen.

On 11 November 2009, the British informed the Americans of a report that an “Umar Farouk” had been in contact with Awlaki.  On 19 November 2009, Abdulmutallab’s father, alarmed at strange messages from his son, contacted the American Embassy in Nigeria.  He warned them about his son Umar Farouk.  Abdulmuttalab’s name went on one terrorist data-base, but not on two others, including the “No Fly List.”  No one noticed his existing American visa.

Abdulmuttalab did as he was told.  Traveling by way of Ethiopia, Ghana, and Nigeria, he reached Amsterdam.  Then he booked a flight on Northwest Airlines flight 253.  By Christmas Day, 2009, the flight was over American soil, bound for Detroit.  So far, so good.

Then something went amiss.  The evidence is that being a martyr is a stressful business.  One tends to sweat a lot while contemplating what one is about to do.  Thus, the “shoe bomber” sweated a lot, soaking the soles of his shoes.  He could not get the charge to ignite before he was wrestled into submission.  So, too, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab sweated through his clothes.  Starting from the inside out, that meant that his underwear bore the brunt of his pre-Paradise nerves.[7]  When he tried to set off the bomb, it misfired.  Like the “shoe bomber,” the “underwear bomber” then succumbed to superior force.[8]

In addition to Abdulmuttalab, the plane carried 289 passengers and crew.

But no, not a single American has been killed in the United States by a terrorist coming from Yemen.  Multiple lines of defense and sophisticated data bases provide rigorous vetting of potential terrorists.

[1] Much later, Said Kouachi also attended the school.  See:

[2] See:  Iman University’s founder had just been designated a terrorist by the U.S. government.  Among the university’s alums is John Walker Lindh.

[3] In neither case did the British share this information with the Americans.

[4] See:  and  Sorry to reference myself.

[5] See:

[6] Scott Shane, “F.B.I. Interviews Tell of Cleric’s Role in Bomb Plot,” NYT, 23 February 2017.

[7] Perhaps it would make the most sense for the Trump administration to issue a travel ban on sweaty people?  Nah, it would just lead to charges of perspiro-phobia.  OK, back to the drawing board.

[8] One of those applying the force was a Dutch tourist.  I was hoping he would turn out to be a Swede.

Yemen and Nomen

The Christmas Day 2009 “Underwear Bomber” brought attention to a little-known, impoverished, physically desolate, ill-governed, violent corner of the world.  No not Detroit.  Yemen, on the southwestern tip of the Arabian peninsula.

Conditions in Yemen are miserable.  Yemen consists of mountains and deserts and tribes.  Furthermore, there are fewer than thirty million Yemenis, but they own sixty million guns.  Then, the economy is dead: about half the population lives in poverty and over a third of the work force is unemployed.  What little oil there is won’t last much longer.  There is a shortage of water that will only get worse.  Yemeni women have an average of six children, so the population is rising rapidly.

Political conditions make this dire situation even worse.  First, the recetn President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was seen as a crook and a tyrant.  After two successive presidents had been assassinated, the army put him into power in 1978.  He quickly entrenched himself.  Then, in 1990 his government managed to get control of the southern region, which is home to the oil resources of the country.  Since then it has bled the region of the oil revenue while starving it of resources.  So there is an insurgency underway.  Then, in the north there are Shi’a Muslims who dislike being ruled by a Sunni government.  So there is an insurgency under way.  Then, because the economy is in poor shape, unemployed young men tend to have a lot of time to kill.  Fundamentalist religious preachers abound, usually spewing stuff about Islam establishing its world predominance through struggle. One of these preachers was the Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who was in touch via internet with Major Nidal Hasan before he killed thirteen soldiers at Fort Hood in November 2009, and he met with the “underwear bomber” before his mission in December 2009.  Guy appeared to be in a rut.

So, it is a natural environment for Al Qaeda.  The first Al Qaeda people showed up as early as 1992.  In 2000 Al Qaeda bombed the USS Cole when it was entering port in Yemen.  Later on, Yemeni jihadists went to fight the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Many of the survivors of those adventures have returned home over the years.  When the Saudi Arabian government stomped down on jihadists sympathizers after 9/11, many of them fled to Yemen.  Right now it is estimated that anywhere from 300 to 500 committed Al Qaeda fighters are somewhere in Yemen.  (For obvious reasons, it’s a little tricky to go door to door doing a proper census.)  More recently the British and American embassies in the capital city of Sanaa were attacked.  Most recently, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian Muslim studying in Yemen, was recruited as the “Underwear bomber.”  So, the place is a pain-in-the-neck for the United States.

Generally, Yemenis don’t like the United States as an abstract concept.  The government is less anti-American than are the people generally, but people don’t like the government either.  If the government co-operates too openly with the United States in opposing Al Qaeda, it will become even less popular than it is now.  The result may be that it will be over-thrown by people who are pro-Al Qaeda.  So, we can let the situation sort of fester in hopes that nothing worse will appear, or we can push for action against Al Qaeda and make that worse situation appear.  I suppose we could invade the place to bring them hope and change, just like we did in Iraq and Afghanistan.  “How’s that hopey changey thing working out for you?”

“Terrorism’s new hideout,” The Week, 22 January 2010, p. 11.