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U.S. closes embassy in Yemen amid threat

As the U.K. follows the U.S. move in Sanaa, those at school where would-be Northwest bomber studied describe a "good person."

On Friday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the United Kingdom would host an “urgent” international meeting about terrorism in Yemen, as a part of a conference concerning Afghanistan in late January.

“The new decade is starting as the last began — with Al Qaeda creating a climate of fear,” Brown wrote in an article published about the meeting. The U.S. and the European Union have already pledged to attend, with more countries expected to follow. Brown aims to improve counterterrorism efforts in the Arabian Peninsula by coordinating military and development assistance to Yemen, according to a press release.

On the same day as Brown’s announcement, an extremist Somali militia, classified as "terrorist" by the U.S. since 2008, declared its determination to support Al Qaeda in its fight against the West. The militia, Al-Shabaab, already holds much of central and southern Somalia, and is lead by Al Qaeda associates, according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center website.

“We call upon all Muslims to give a hand to our brothers in Yemen and we, Al-Shabaab, are ready to send them reinforcements,” said Al-Shebaab senior official Mukhtar Robow Abuu Mansuur, according to Rueters. “And, inshallah, we shall win over America.”

The Yemeni government responded to this threat defiantly through its official news source, but it remains unclear how Yemen, which grants automatic refugee status to Somalis, can prevent militants from entering the country along with the masses fleeing war and drought.

“Yemen never accepts terrorists and jihadist militants on its soil and it can deal with the existence of any of them,” Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi told Saba News.

It is also unclear how the government can weed out potential terrorists from the students that come from all over the world to study Arabic or Islamic studies in Yemen. Passports can be examined, and visa applications can be reviewed, but once the students are in Yemen, they are not followed or monitored. “It’s a very difficult problem,” Al-Qirbi told GlobalPost.

And students and administrators at the Sanaa Institute said even if Abdulmutallab was monitored closely, it would have been impossible to predict his violent future. He was an ace student, known to be polite and enthusiastic. Guards saw Abdulmutallab hand out money, clothes and food to poor neighbors, according to director Al-Anisi. Teachers saw him play with children on the streets.

Al-Anisi said Abdulmutallab was nothing like the other foreign Arabic-language student in Yemen later arrested and prosecuted for crimes related to Islamic extremism: American Taliban, John Walker Lindh.

Lindh, unlike Abdulmutallab, was poor and thin, and studied at another school in Sanaa’s Old City. The only thing they had in common was that they first came to Yemen in their late teens, while most of the other students do post-graduate studies.

Matthew Salmon, an Arabic language student from British Columbia said he lived in the school dorms with Abdulmutallab for a few weeks. Salmon said Abdulmutallab was friendly but mostly kept to himself. He never appeared dangerous.

“The profile in the news is painting a different picture of the person we knew,” he told GlobalPost. “It’s a weird experience.”