Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Al Qaeda fighters leaving Iraq for Yemen

'Experienced fighters returning to Yemen from the Iraq war and radicalized U.S. citizens who have taken up residence in that country have broadened assessments of the threat posed by the al-Qaeda affiliate there, according to administration and congressional officials.

..."U.S. officials said they are on heightened alert because of the potential threat from extremists carrying American passports and the related challenges involved in detecting and stopping homegrown operatives," the report says.

An additional concern, it says, "is a group of nearly 10 non-Yemeni Americans who traveled to Yemen, converted to Islam, became fundamentalists, and married Yemeni women so they could remain in the country." One U.S. official, it reports, described them as "blond-haired, blue-eyed types" who "fit a profile of Americans whom al-Qaeda has sought to recruit over the past several years."

...The new group, whose leadership was formed by terrorists who escaped from a Yemeni prison in 2006 and Yemenis released from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under the Bush administration, combines al-Qaeda affiliates in both Saudi Arabia and Yemen and is bolstered by insurgents returning from Iraq with what one counterterrorism official called "battlefield expertise" and tactical knowledge.

"As the Iraq conflict came down, you found that a number of those al-Qaeda types who went to Iraq to fight came back with hardened skills and new techniques," the senior administration official said.

"These individuals who wanted to go and fight are now being plugged into the existing organization in Yemen," said Gregory D. Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University. "For a long time, there was no real organizational infrastructure for them to fit into. Now, there is something." '

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