Counter-terrorism activities in Yemen

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Officials in Yemen have confirmed that the Nigerian man charged with attempting to blow up an airliner on Christmas day outside Detroit spent time in Yemen in recent months. In addition, a Yemeni-based al Qaeda affiliate has claimed responsibility for planning the failed plot. The World's Matthew Bell reports today on US options for stepping up counter-terrorism activities in Yemen.

KATY CLARK: I'm Katy Clark and this is The World. More details are emerging about the links between the attempt on a Detroit bound airliner and the country of Yemen. Today, a Yemeni official said the Nigerian suspect in the foiled bombing had been living in Yemen until just a few weeks ago. The group, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has claimed responsibility for planning last week's attack, and it's threatened more against the West. The group is based in Yemen. The U.S. is stepping up efforts to prevent Yemen from becoming another safe haven for Al-Qaeda. But as The World's Matthew Bell reports, the U.S. has to walk a fine line there.

MATTHEW BELL: The link between the foiled attack in the skies over Detroit and Al-Qaeda in Yemen is an entirely plausible one. Yemen's foreign minister, Abu Bakr al-Qiribi, said as much in an interview with the BBC today.

ABU BAKR AL-QIRIBI: Of course there are a number of Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen and some of their leaders. We realize this danger, and they may actually plan for attacks like the one we've just had in Detroit. We have to work in a very joint fashion and partnership to combat terrorism and if we do that I think the problem will be under control.

BELL: The problem is, he says, Yemen is not getting enough help from its western partners, including the United States.

AL-QIRIBI: We are not getting the support we need for our terrorism units. We are unable to expand their numbers because we are not getting the support we need for that. There is actually at the moment some support that is coming. I must say it is inadequate.

BELL: The foreign minister said Yemen needs more military training and more equipment such as helicopters to fight Al-Qaeda. According to the New York Times, the CIA and the Pentagon are stepping up their anti-terrorism activities in Yemen dramatically. Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman recently visited Yemen and described it as one of the centers in the U.S. fight against Al-Qaeda. For long time observers of Yemen, connections between Osama Bin Laden's terrorist network and Yemen are nothing new, but concerns have grown in recent years. In 2006, more than 20 terrorist suspects broke out of a Yemeni prison, and since then, the group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has reportedly established itself in Yemen. Some former Guantanamo detainees are said to have joined up as well. Political unrest in Yemen has provided fertile ground for the Al-Qaeda group. The Yemeni government has struggled to contain a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south. Ginny Hill is a regional analyst with the London-based think tank, Chatham House.

GINNY HILL: The concern is that terrorist organizations in Yemen have been rebuilding their capacity to strike internally, but also extending their ambitions to strike across the outside of Yemen's borders.

BELL: As for Yemen's apparent role in the foiled Detroit attack, Hill says there was a precedent for that back in August.

HILL: A non-Yemeni National was based in Yemen where he obtained explosives and prepared his attack, which he then carried out, outside of Yemen. He went back to Saudi Arabia in this instance and attempted to assassinate the Deputy Interior Minister. He also used the same explosives that were allegedly used by the Nigerian bomber on the Detroit flight, and he tried to conceal them in his body so that he would evade the explosives being detected.

BELL: Al-Qaeda clearly poses a threat from Yemen, says former U.S. Ambassador to the country, Barbara Bodine, but the challenge for the Obama Administration she says is to confront that threat without undermining Yemen's government.

BARBARA BODINE: What we should be doing is helping the Yemenis who have shown a willingness to take this on, perhaps not as aggressively always as we would like, and know they don't have the capabilities of our military. But still let them and help them defend and protect their own country. They do not support Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. We don't want to take actions where it looks like we are pushing aside the government and taking it on ourselves.

BELL: Bodine says doing that would likely spark an anti-American backlash in Yemen that could end up turning the country into a failed state. It hasn't reached that point yet, she says, but there's a risk that it could, and that would make Yemen all the more attractive to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell.