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Preliminary Observations on the Christmas Day Terror Plot

3:50 PM, Dec 26, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Some of the most senior positions in AQAP are held by former Guantanamo detainees. Said al Shihri, AQAP's #2 leader, is a former Gitmo detainee. Al Shihri was reportedly involved in al Qaeda's attack on the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, Yemen in September 2008. AQAP's leading ideologue is Ibrahim Rubaish, who is another Gitmo alum. Rubaish is responsible for providing theological justifications for al Qaeda's terror. Did al Shihri, Rubaish or some other senior AQAP leader play a role in Mudallad's attempt at mass murder?

We don't know, but it is one angle to this story that is worth keeping an eye on. By the way, the Fort Hood shooter's cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, is another senior AQAP-affiliated cleric. Awlaki's home in Yemen was recently the target of an airstrike that had senior AQAP personnel - including Awlaki (who reportedly survived) and al Shihri - in its crosshairs.

We can only speculate about who within AQAP assisted Mudallad - if in fact he did receive assistance from AQAP. But it is not speculative at all to note that if AQAP did support Mudallad's plot, then this puts an exclamation point on security concerns about Yemen.

Mudallad's story raises the possibility that AQAP is playing a larger role in promulgating international terrorism - not just fighting an insurgency that threatens the government of Yemen. This is a sign of strength, indeed.

Finally, all of this could also further complicate the Obama administration's attempts to close Guantanamo. Around 90 or more of the remaining 198 detainees are Yemeni. The Bush administration did not repatriate many of them to their home country because of security concerns. The Obama administration has similarly been reluctant to transfer large numbers of detainees because the Yemeni government has an abysmal track record when it comes to keeping tabs on known al Qaeda terrorists.

President Saleh's regime is also notoriously duplicitous, and works with al Qaeda and like-minded jihadist organizations at times. Thus far, the American government has not wanted to risk transferring or releasing the Gitmo Yemenis to Saleh's custody because it could easily lead to their rejoining the jihad in short order.

The Yemen part of Mudallad's story is, therefore, of paramount importance. It is too early to tell how important this aspect is, but we should be gravely concerned - to say the least.