The Al-Qaida wing in Yemen that claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing has as many as 2,000 militants and sympathizers exploiting the country's economic and political chaos to create a base for jihad at the edge of the Persian Gulf, said a Yemeni terrorism expert.
The group, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is the latest reincarnation of Islamist militant cells that have been active in Yemen for years.
The country has supplied extremists to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to terrorist networks stretching from North Africa to Europe. But Yemen these days is not only inspiring radicals, it's also attracting them to join an evolving extremist front in the Middle East.
"They were once just a group of radicals in Yemen looking to its mother in Afghanistan for advice," Saeed Ali O. Jemhi, an expert on militant groups, said in the Yemeni capital, Sana. "But the group's leadership in Yemen has improved. They have clear ideological and strategic plans."
The growth of Al-Qaida's wing in Yemen and its selection of high-profile targets are partly the result of militants regrouping following U.S. military pressure on Al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yemen's unrest has given Al-Qaida an ideal hub, especially in rural and tribal regions where the government's reach is diminished.
The group, whose aim, analysts say, is to create an Islamic caliphate across the Persian Gulf and build a base to attack Western and Israeli interests, is operating just across the Red Sea from Somalia, where another Al-Qaida branch has taken hold in the lawless Horn of Africa.
REID TO FORCE VOTE ON TSA NOMINEE
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that he will force a vote on President Obama's nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration when the Senate reconvenes in three weeks. He said he will file a motion for cloture, a procedural step to limit debate and lead to a roll-call vote, on the confirmation of nominee Erroll Southers.
PLOT MAY FOIL PLAN TO CLOSE GITMO
The foiled attack has thrown up a major roadblock to President Obama's pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Reports that suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had trained in Yemen, and that the plot was hatched by two former Guantanamo detainees, have even supporters of emptying the prison predicting a new impediment to their effort. Nearly half of the 198 detainees are citizens of Yemen -- also the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden.
"This is just disastrous for the Yemenis at Guantanamo," said Washington, D.C., attorney David Remes, who over the years has defended 17 Yemeni detainees, some now slated for release. He said an Obama administration task force has cleared for release "as many as 40 Yemenis" declared unfairly held or no longer threats, but that "the politics of the situation may make it impossible for the administration to send any Yemenis back to Yemen in the foreseeable future."