February 27, 2010

Al Qaeda urges Somali groups to choke Red Sea entrance

Earlier this month, the Yemeni branch of the Al Qaeda has called on the Somali group Al Shabaab and others to wage a jihad and choke off the Red Sea to commercial shipping. Although the group wants to do this to cut off U.S. shipments to Israel, the commercial impact of the possibility of a disturbance, to put it mildly, in the narrow strip of water that feeds the Suez Canal s bound to be huge.

Al Qaeda’s second in command in Yemen, Saeed Al Shehri, has released an audio recording in which he exhorts Al Shabaab’s Islamist insurgents to return the Bab Al Mandab strait, the narrow entrance to the Red Sea, 'to the lands of Islam'. 'At such a time the Bab Al Mandab will be closed and that will tighten the noose on the Jews, because through it America supports them by the Red Sea,' Shehri says, going on to underline the importance of the straits, saying such a chokehold would be a ‘great victory.' Shehri is, incidentally, part of the group that claimed responsibility for the Dec 25 attempting bombing of a US commercial aircraft off Detroit. A former Guantanamo Bay inmate, he says in the audio recording that there is no option except Jihad, since "The Christians, the Jews and the treacherous apostate rulers have pounced on you.”

The recording, released on a website, comes as Yemen threatens to descend into further chaos; a major military offensive against militants in the North and South of the country is now underway as the world watches with grave concern. The possibility of growing instability in Yemen is seen as an ideal situation for Al Qaeda to boost its operations in the region. Shehri’s recording has prompted an immediate security meeting in Sana’a, with President Saleh saying, "All necessary measures will be taken to maintain security and public order and control outlaw elements."

Meanwhile, rebels say that they have repulsed Yemeni forces near the northern city of Sadaa, claiming that Saudi rockets had killed two children and injured others. Saudi Arabia has been involved in a three month long conflict with the Yemeni rebels after it claimed the rebels invaded its territory; the Yemeni government rejected a rebel truce offer recently because it did not include an offer to end attacks on Saudi Arabia. Rebels claim that they raided Saudi Arabia because the country was allowing Yemeni troops to attack them from its soil.

An unstable Yemen is bad enough, but add the failed State of Somalia across the narrow Gulf of Aden to the picture and the scenario becomes even more alarming. Many believe that Al Shabaab is not yet in a position to directly threaten the Bab El Mandab straits, because the area is far from their strongholds that are more to the south of Somalia, between the capital Mogadishu and the port of Kismayu to the south. However, given the nexus between some Al Shabaab elements and pirate gangs that have been targeting merchant ships for years, this latest Al Qaeda threat cannot be written off so easily. The international community has ignored the terrorist-pirate nexus long enough.