There is no doubt that the Al Qaeda has expanded its network to newer areas like Yemen and Somalia, but Pakistan remains its nerve centre, a top American Senator said on Wednesday.
"Al Qaeda's affiliates demand our attention, but the movement's nerve centre remains in Pakistan," Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in his remarks before the Committee's hearing on the December 25 attempt by a Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to blow up a US plane.
"This administration and many on this Committee have long been concerned by the threat posed by the Al Qaeda's beachhead in Yemen. In fact, by Christmas, the administration had already begun partnering with Yemen's government to go on offence against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," Kerry said.
"Al Qaeda's presence in Yemen may not be new, but it is evolving. Last January, Saudi and Yemeni Al Qaeda branches merged to form Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In May, an AQAP bomber travelled from Yemen to launch a failed assassination attempt against a Saudi prince. Then, the foiled Christmas Day attack revealed AQAP's ambition to launch terrorist operations not just regionally, but globally and against America," he said.
Referring to a report released by the majority staff of his committee, Kerry said this reveals troubling new dimensions of the threat.
"According to US law enforcement officials, over the past year, as many as three dozen American ex-convicts have traveled to Yemen upon release from prison," he said.
"They reportedly went to study Arabic, but several have since disappeared, raising concerns that they may have gone to Al Qaeda camps for training. US and Yemeni officials are also concerned about the whereabouts and intentions of a smaller group of Americans who have moved to Yemen, adopted a radical form of Islam, and married local women," Kerry said.
As our enemies tactics evolve, we need to keep up and that includes taking a close look at the unique threat posed by American recruits into Al Qaeda, he said.
The Republican ranking member of the Committee, Senator Richard Lugar, said the United States must work urgently and creatively to meet the potential terrorist threat from Yemen.
"But, we can't do it alone. First and foremost, we need the unequivocal commitment of Yemen's government to combat Al Qaeda. Our long-term strategy must account for the reality that pursuing Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is neither logistically easy, nor politically popular with the Yemeni people," he said.
"We need to communicate to Yemen's people that our battle is not with them."
We should not be shy about advocating political reform and decentralisation, goals that will both resonate with the Yemeni people and promote greater stability, Lugar said.