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The Christmas Bomber A Dubai Connection

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Angus Taverner

Director- Global Affairs

Tag: Government Policy United Arab Emirates
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This year the quiet news week that traditionally marks the end of the year holidays in the West was dominated by the attempted terrorist attack on a US airliner bound from Lagos to Detroit on Christmas Day.  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallabs failed effort to detonate a cleverly designed inexpensive explosive device was to be a genuine terrorist attack.  Given his recent visits to Yemen and the group's subsequent claims, it seems that this was the work of a resurgent and increasingly troubling Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). 
Since the failed attack, the Western media has focused heavily on Yemen.  In the US particularly, many are demanding that the US deploy US military capability to the southern Gulf state.  Mercifully President Obama seems to recognise that this would most likely only inflame an already combustible situation.  He seems at least for the moment to be holding at bay the something must be done crowd, avoiding military involvement beyond a small number of special forces. 
A deluge of analysis of Abdulmutallab himself and the path that seems to have led to his becoming a radicalised member of AQAP has filled the media.  He is an interesting and obviously intelligent young man--the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and a devout Muslim who completed an engineering degree in London but who was evidently regarded as something of a loner.  Of particular note, subsequent investigation has revealed that he had both a multiple entry visa for the US and a residency visa for the UAE, where it seems that he enrolled for a Masters degree at the University of Dubai, although he does not appear to have pursued this with any vigour.  It is also important to note that there has been no suggestion that he was radicalised in Dubai and indeed it may be that he was using this as cover to disguise his growing involvement with AQAP.  His parents say they urged him to go to Dubai to study in the hope of preventing his radicalization.  No one has shown any connection between the UAE and AQAP. 
This latest manifestation of Al Qaeda in Yemen is believed to be led by a former protg of Osama bin Laden, Nasser Abdul Karim al-Wuhayshi, and another Yemeni from the south, Qasim al-Raymi.  It is difficult to determine the extent to which the current version of AQAP is the same organisation that wreaked havoc across Saudi Arabia in 2003, culminating in the Al-Khobar attacks in 2004.  However, it is clear that AQAP is becoming increasingly bold and competent in the range and style of its attacks.  The Christmas Day incident also suggests that the organisation is not afraid to extend its activities well beyond Yemens borders.  While the actual number of people involved in AQAP appears to be relatively small perhaps as few as 50 (though some claim as many as 500) if AQAP is left to continue to gather strength, the organisation could start to threaten the whole of the Gulf region and beyond.  Both the US and the UK have indicated intentions to re-engage with Yemen.  In turn, it also seems likely that there will be renewed pressure on Gulf governments to become involved as well.

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