SAN’A, Yemen—In nearly a decade of rebuilding its terror network here, al Qaeda has put down deep roots, a move that is now complicating U.S.-backed efforts to battle the group.
Unlike other chapters of the global terror network, Yemen’s Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a largely homegrown movement, with carefully cultivated ties to the local population. That sets it apart from other affiliates of al Qaeda, and could make it much more difficult to dislodge.
The group’s strategy: apply lessons learned from mistakes by affiliates in other Mideast havens, particularly Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
In both those places, al Qaeda’s footprint weakened significantly as local support for the group turned sharply against it. To avoid a similar fate in Yemen, the group has worked hard to curry favor with local tribes—so much so that it is now largely interwoven in the country’s tribal fabric.
“They’ve worked hard to put deep, and what they hope are lasting, roots that will make it very difficult for them to be rooted out of Yemen,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University. “They’ve done a good job of looking at the mistakes that other versions of al Qaeda have made elsewhere.”