“The truth is there is no al-Qaeda.” Such a comment rarely finds currency in a nation’s popular consciousness but in Yemen, home to what the CIA calls the most dangerous of al-Qaeda’s many affiliates (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP), it is all too common.
For some AQAP is just a cynical excuse for the Saleh government to get increased foreign military aid from the US and others. Other Yemenis, particularly in the south, see it as an excuse to attack separatist groups that have nothing to do with international terrorism.
It isn’t naivete on the part of Yemenis, however, but a natural function of the Yemeni government’s constant use of “al-Qaeda” as a justification for attacks on separatist-linked civilians, and as a catch-all for the many different groups that have bones to pick with the Saleh regime.
Indeed AQAP appears responsible for precious little of the internal violence in Yemen, and the group’s focus on overseas targets makes it difficult to sell the idea of them being something for the Yemeni military to focus on. What few attacks they have claimed were usually clear retaliation for the government offensive, raising the inevitable question of whether the Saleh regime is simply hitting a hornet’s nest over and over and claiming a “threat” when it gets stung.