26 December 2009

Just when you thought Holiday air travel couldn't get any worse...

...a terrorist with suspected links to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) attempts to blow up an Airbus en route to Detroit, Michigan. And I thought being in Reagan International on the 23rd of December was bad...

One blog in particular has some great updates on this recent development. "Al-Sahwa" (Arabic for "The Awakening", in reference to the Awakening movements in Anbar Province in Iraq) is run by a number of Army captains who seem to spend their time blogging on counterinsurgency and national security issues due to extreme boredom in their captains career course (I deeply sympathize). On Christmas Day, no less, a poster by the name of Pat Ryan posted extensively on the recent happenings in the skies over Detroit:

It appears the the recent US-Yemeni operations targeting AQAP in various parts of Yemen have stirred up the hornet's nest...

Northwest Airlines 253 (originating from Amsterdam) was the site today of a failed attempt to detonate some sort of Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The Wall Street Journal reports that after the plane landed in Detroit, TSA and FBI officials quickly took one individual into custody and were interviewing all passengers. Although full details are yet to emerge, initial reports say that the man had some sort of IED strapped to his leg and attempted to detonate the device in midair. The device malfunctioned and started a small fire.

According to the WSJ, the man told officials that he had been given the IED by an AQ (or AQ-affiliated) operative based in Yemen and was acting on their instructions. If true, this would show the ability of AQAP to extend their reach beyond the wider Arabian Peninsula into the West and the US specifically. It also clearly raises questions of physical security vulnerabilities on flights originating from international locations.
Obviously, this story is still unfolding, so details will likely be sketchy for the next few days. However, I found it interesting that Pat linked the AQAP-inspired attack over Detroit to a recent series of successful raids against AQAP in Yemen over the last week. On Thursday, 24 December, the Yemeni military launched a massive combined operaton on AQAP operatives, and are suspected of killing the top two AQAP leaders in Yemen, as well as Anwar al-Alwaki , a radical Muslim cleric who had regular e-mail contact with Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter. In total, the 24 December operation produced the following results, according to Saba News, the official Yemeni news organization (H/T Long War Journal and al-Sahwa):

Anti-terrorism troops launched in the early hours of Thursday [24 December 2009] air and ground raids against al-Qaeda hideouts and training sites in Abyan in the south and in Sana'a in the north killing and arresting about 51 al Qaeda suspects, including foreigners.

Between 24-30 plotters were killed and caught in Abyan in the south, four killed and four arrested in Arahab district north of the capital, and 13 were seized in the capital of Sana'a.

The 24 December attack comes shortly after an American cruise missile attack 17 December. This strike was directed against three separate targets in Yemen, and is suspected of killing over 120, according to Yemeni officials.

The correlation is disturbing, but the attacker's isolated actions, and the relative incompetence of the operation may be an indication of an AQAP organization on the ropes. Let's hope so. The links between recent American/Yemen success and this recent botched plot are better than the theory I had about a Christmas event having great psychological effect, although it's not entirely without precedent this holiday season, what with a Taliban video of PFC Bowe Bergdahl surfacing just yesterday.

Waq al-Waq, a blog specializing in the Iranian- and AQ-backed insurgency in Yemen, has been quiet over the last few days, but should have great information coming out of the area.

1 comment:

Josh McLaughlin said...

Boredom caused by the CCC (for the two of us in the CCC) isn't the only reason we post. The CCC-induced boredom just allows us to post a lot more often than we would be able to if we were on the line.

My colleagues at al Sahwa continue to put out some great analysis of this issue, I fully encourage anyone reading this to check out our blog.