VIENNA — Al-Qaeda operatives hiding in Yemen are probably the most dangerous of the terrorist group's regional offshoots, as they are closest to the leadership and aim to attack oil giant Saudi Arabia, a senior UN counterterrorism official asserted.
The coordinator of the UN Taliban/Al-Qaeda Sanctions Monitoring Committee, Richard Barrett, added that the menace of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was compounded by its ability to hide in unstable Yemen and the boldness of its ambition, demonstrated by an attack on Saudi Arabia's security chief in August.
"If you look at relationships between Al-Qaeda in the Afghan-Pakistani border area and any affiliated outside group, the closest is with AQAP in Yemen," Barrett said. While Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Al-Shabaab in Somalia may be more active, AQAP has the closest ties with their Afghan and Pakistani compatriots, he contended.
Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, whose father was born in Yemen, has made a determined effort to foster self-managing affiliates in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East to attack the "infidel" West and Western allies. Barrett opined that other Al-Qaeda branches may carry out more frequent attacks, but AQAP wields greater influence in the global network.
"AQAP is the key group for the leadership because its members are from the Arabian Peninsula and can move around easily, and are culturally attuned to many within the leadership," he said.
Changing its name last January, AQAP continues to signal its intent to strike regionally and in particular against Saudi Arabia (Yemen's northern neighbour and the world's largest oil exporter).
The move has deepened regional concern about Yemen, as the impoverished country's security forces are already stretched by insurgency in the north and a separatist movement in the south.
A failed attempt in August by an AQAP suicide bomber to kill Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Assistant Saudi Interior Minister responsible for counterterrorism, was the first attack on a royal family member in the kingdom since 2003.