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Nov. 4 Chat: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula

Related Article: 
Yemen: Al Qaeda 2.0
Date and Time: 
Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 12:00 - 12:30

 

 

Yemen has long been the site of an active Al Qaeda presence — from the 2000 USS Cole attack to the recent package bomb plot. 

At noon on Thursday Nov. 4, GlobalPost hosted a web chat on this increasingly volatile country, with Caryle Murphy, GlobalPost's Saudi Arabia correspondent. Murphy is an expert on the roots of religious extremism in the Middle East, and a Pulitzer Prize winning former Washington Post correspondent. 

Below is the transcript of the chat.

 

 

   

12:00

GlobalPost

Hi there everyone

12:00

GlobalPost

Welcome to another fine edition of Global Chats with your host GlobalPost.

12:00

GlobalPost

Today we welcome the wonderful Caryle Murphy

12:01

GlobalPost

Caryle has been reporting from inside Saudi Arabia for the last few years, tracking the kingdom’s efforts to reclaim Islam from extremist groups like Al Qaeda.

12:01

GlobalPost

Saudi counterterrorism officials first warned the United States about last Friday’s bomb plot organized by Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula.

12:01

GlobalPost

Several in AQAP’s leadership, meanwhile, happen to be Saudi.

12:01

GlobalPost

Where does this land the kingdom in the eyes of the West?

12:01

GlobalPost

Caryle is here to talk about this and other issues in the region.

12:01

GlobalPost

Just a quick note:

12:01

Caryle_Murphy

Hello everyone

12:02

GlobalPost

Typically these chats are limited to members.

12:02

GlobalPost

For those of you who noticed the amorous typo in our announcement, please sign up to become a member and help us hire copy editors.

12:02

GlobalPost

Onward and upward.

12:02

GlobalPost

First question:

12:02

GP-ChatHost

And just a quick note to the audience:if you would like to ask Caryle a question, simply message me GP-ChatHostby pasting the following into the message box: "/msg GP-ChatHostFOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE" without the quotations

12:02

GlobalPost

Why, do you think, did Saudi Arabia alert the United States to this most recent bomb plot?

12:03

Caryle_Murphy

The Saudi government views Al Qaeda and its affiliates through the same prism as the United States and Europe: As a mortal danger and threat. Therefore, the Saudis a few years ago came round to the conclusion that it is in their own best interest to share information about terrorist groups with their allies. (Despite policy differences on a number of matters,

12:03

Caryle_Murphy

Saudi Arabia and Washington are long-time allies.)

12:03

Caryle_Murphy

Although they don’t talk about it much, Saudi and US counter-terrorism officials work closely together these days. John Brennan, the White House CT honcho, is a former CIA officer who counts Riyadh as among his past postings. He undoubtedly made some good contacts there.

12:04

Caryle_Murphy

Press reports state that Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi CT chief, called Brennan personally to alert him to the bombs.

12:04

Caryle_Murphy

It is also likely that part of the Saudis’ calculus in passing on the tip was that they would improve their image in the US, where since 9/11 they have been viewed with suspicion because so many of the 9/11 suicide attackers (15 of 19) came from Saudi.

12:04

Caryle_Murphy

All in all, I think these are the main reasons for the tip off /

12:05

GlobalPost

What has made Saudi Arabia more willing to cooperate with the United States in terms of counterterrorism?

12:06

Caryle_Murphy

Well, eighteen months after 9/11, the Saudis had their own terrorist attacks when Al Qaeda launched suicide bombers against residential compounds killing over 30 people.

12:06

Caryle_Murphy

That was the start of a long campaign of violence by the Saudi network of Al Qaeda.

12:06

Caryle_Murphy

It was a huge wake-up call for the Saudis. They were very unprepared for it.

12:07

Caryle_Murphy

And their security forces, over the next few years, lost around 90 members killed in shoot-out with Al Qaeda operatives.

12:07

Caryle_Murphy

But the Saudis finally got their act together and by 2006 had crushed Al Qaeda's networks inside the kingdom.

12:08

Caryle_Murphy

It was this experience I think that made them realize how important cooperation with other CT officials in other countries is./

12:09

GP-ChatHost

And just a quick note to the audience:if you would like to ask Caryle a question, simply message me GP-ChatHostby pasting the following into the message box: "/msg GP-ChatHostFOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE" without the quotations

12:09

GlobalPost

Has Saudi Arabia provided other tip-offs recently to western counterterrorism officials?

12:10

Caryle_Murphy

Yes, they have. About two weeks ago, French officials disclosed that Riyadh had warned them that AQAP (Al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen) was preparing some sort of attack

12:10

Caryle_Murphy

in Europe and perhaps France specifically. There have been press reports of other tips the Saudis have passed on to Arab and European CT officials. /

12:11

GP-ChatHost

Hi Caryle! We have a great question from a member of the audience

12:11

Caryle_Murphy

Okay great.

12:11

GP-ChatHost

JamesM: As I understand it, the Saudi's fostered an "extreme" version of Islam. Are they now thinking that they've let a tiger out of a cage that they've lost control of, and have they softened their views?

12:12

Caryle_Murphy

Excellent question. The short answer is yes, but let me say more...

12:12

Caryle_Murphy

The official Wahhabi version of Islam that is the dominant view in the kingdom and that has been supported by the royal family

12:13

Caryle_Murphy

is very intolerant of other views of Islam and of other religions. It does not advocate violence, however. And it does not advocate anti-government activity.

12:14

Caryle_Murphy

But it is the intolerance that is the danger. And that has been taken to an extreme by Al Qaeda and other groups like it to justify their violence.

12:14

Caryle_Murphy

But this is interesting: The official Wahhabi establishment in Saudi is against the anti-government violence of Al Qaeda.

12:15

Caryle_Murphy

Now, in order to fix this predicament that the royal family got itself into by allowing the Wahhabi intolerance to flourish,

12:16

Caryle_Murphy

King Abdullah has started several intiatives to promote tolerance, including an international religious dialogue effort as well as internal dialogues between Sunni and Shiites.

12:16

Caryle_Murphy

Hope I didn't lose anyone on that long answer./

12:16

GlobalPost

Thanks Caryle

12:17

GlobalPost

Moving on to Yemen. Is Yemen likely to be a willing partner in the fight against AQAP? How can the United States best get Yemeni cooperation in this fight?

12:18

Caryle_Murphy

Yemen's relationship with 'jihadis' in general and AQAP specifically has been ambiguous and ambivalent. It has tolerated such groups in the past

12:19

Caryle_Murphy

But in the last year or so, it has become more cooperative with the US in its efforts to contain and destroy AQAP and the Yemen government

12:19

Caryle_Murphy

has become more aggressive against AQAP. This is for two reasons: One, the Yemeni government of President Ali Abdallah Saleh gets money

12:20

Caryle_Murphy

from foreign governments when he is cooperative in fighting extremism. Second, AQAP has begun killing Yemeni security officials. Some press

12:20

Caryle_Murphy

reports say that AQAP has knocked off about 90 such officials in recent weeks. That's a heavy toll. As far as the future goes...

12:21

Caryle_Murphy

the US is thinking about upping its military and intelligence support for Yemeni forces fighting AQAP. It's essential to be light-footed

12:21

Caryle_Murphy

and intelligent in getting Yemeni cooperation. US officials have to be sensitive to nationalistic sentiments among Yemenis and not be seen

12:22

Caryle_Murphy

as bossing them around. Also, putting US military forces on the ground would really only make things much worse and perhaps drive

12:22

Caryle_Murphy

recruits into AQAP's arms, according to many Yemeni experts. One big thing that needs to be done is to make sure

12:23

Caryle_Murphy

that all the pledges of economic aid made to Yemen for development programs and anti-poverty efforts are fulfilled. Those pledges

12:24

Caryle_Murphy

were made early this year by an international conference of both Arab and European countries, along with the US./

12:24

GlobalPost

Some have said that Yemen is the next Afghanistan. Do you agree with that? Why has Yemen become a safe haven for Al Qaeda affiliates?

12:25

Caryle_Murphy

Yemen has become a safe haven for AQAP for several reasons. Firstly, it's a country that highly tribal, which means that there are vast

12:25

Caryle_Murphy

areas where tribes are the dominant governing body, not the central government. AQAP has found protection among some of these tribes.

12:26

Caryle_Murphy

Second, AQAP's reemergence in early 2009 in Yemen was partly due to the fact that Saudi veterans of the Al Qaeda network in Saudi Arabia

12:27

Caryle_Murphy

went to Yemen (which is just next door to Saudi) where they joined Yemeni Al Qaeda members to create AQAP. The Saudis brought money and

12:27

Caryle_Murphy

expertise to the newly formed group. I am not of the opinion, however, that Yemen is the next Afghanistan.

12:28

Caryle_Murphy

AQAP is believed to have 300 to 400 members. And it is not supported or protected by the Saleh national government. And the US and Saudi

12:29

Caryle_Murphy

have been on its case heavily the past year. The Saudis have good intelligence capabilities on the ground in Yemen and this is a great

12:29

Caryle_Murphy

asset that did not exist in Afghanistan in the early years when Al Qaeda was building itself up. All in all, I think it will take time, but

12:29

Caryle_Murphy

in the end, I think AQAP will be contained or defeated in Yemen./

12:30

GlobalPost

Thanks Caryle, one more questions and then we have some more audience questions. I encourage everyone to send in their questions now as we'll be wrapping up in a little bit.

12:30

GlobalPost

How will Saudi's role in this latest incident affect its image in the West?

12:31

Caryle_Murphy

I think it may improve its image. Saudi has a terrible image in the West, which is partly due to the extreme Islamophobia that exists on the Internet especially these days.

12:32

Caryle_Murphy

The hostile perceptions of Saudi are also often rooted in ignorance about what is going on in the kingdom. But it's also true

12:33

Caryle_Murphy

that the Saudi government only has itself to blame for some of the bad perceptions it suffers from in the West. What I mean is

12:34

Caryle_Murphy

that the Saudi government does not get its views across well; it is often too secretive; it is not open enough to foreign reporters. All these

12:34

Caryle_Murphy

are not assets when you want to project not just a good image, but the reality of what is actually happening in the kingdom. The Saudi tip-off

12:35

Caryle_Murphy

in this latest incident may give pause to some people look a little deeper at the Saudi-US relationship, which really is one of allies.

12:35

Caryle_Murphy

So, how about more visitor questions?

12:35

GP-ChatHost

Caryle, we do in fact have one more question from the audience:

12:36

GP-ChatHost

mib_2j6hhl: Is the private U.S. plaintiff claims over 9/11 still causing problems in the US-Saudi relationship?

12:36

Caryle_Murphy

I have not heard that it is a major problem in the relationship.

12:38

Caryle_Murphy

Any more queries?

12:38

GlobalPost

I think that's a wrap!

12:39

GP-ChatHost

A huge thanks to Caryle and to the members of our chat-audience!

12:39

GlobalPost

Thanks so much Caryle for your time today

12:39

GlobalPost

And thanks everyone who joined us

12:39

Caryle_Murphy

It was a pleasure, thanks to everyone who dropped in. Caryle

12:39

GP-ChatHost

It was a pleasure to have you all on the chat and remember, GlobalPostroutinely hosts chats for its members. If you are not yet a member but you enjoyed today's chat, please consider becoming a member. You can join for as little as $2.95 per month.

12:40

GP-ChatHost

In addition to chats, you get to participate in conference calls with our correspondents in hot spots around the world.

12:40

GP-ChatHost

Another unique membership feature: we let you suggest topics that you'd like to see us cover.

12:40

GP-ChatHost

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12:40

GP-ChatHost

Recent articles suggested by GP members include:

12:40

GP-ChatHost

a look at the Tea Party's foreign policy

12:41

GP-ChatHost

a survey of the Pentagon's priciest overseas bases and a look at alleged cyber warfare directed at Iran

12:41

GP-ChatHost

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12:41

GP-ChatHost

Thanks!

12:41

GP-ChatHost

Until next time, this is GlobalPost.