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Taking Chances on Yemen

10:38 AM, Jan 3, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The American and British embassies in Yemen have been closed reportedly in response to an al Qaeda threat. The Associated Press reports: 

White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said the American Embassy, which was attacked twice in 2008, was shut Sunday because of "indications al-Qaida is planning to carry out an attack against a target inside of San'a, possibly our embassy."

The American and British embassies in Yemen have been closed reportedly in response to an al Qaeda threat. The Associated Press reports: 

White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said the American Embassy, which was attacked twice in 2008, was shut Sunday because of "indications al-Qaida is planning to carry out an attack against a target inside of San'a, possibly our embassy." "We're not going to take any chances" with the lives of embassy personnel, Brennan said. A statement on the embassy's Web site announcing the closure did not say how long it would remain closed.

Two related items come immediately to mind -- both of them related to former Guantanamo detainees. First, the American embassy in Sanaa was attacked in September 2008. 19 people, including one American, were killed in the attack. The New York Times has reported that the #2 deputy of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Said al Shihri, is suspected of playing a leading role in planning that attack. Said al Shihri is a former Gitmo detainee who was transferred to the Saudis during the Bush administration, attended the Saudi rehabilitation program, and then returned to terrorism.  Second, another former Gitmo detainee, Hani Abdo Shaalan, was reportedly killed on December 17 by Yemeni forces as he was preparing to take part in an attack on the British embassy. Shaalan was one of the comparatively few Yemeni detainees the Bush administration transferred back to Yemeni custody. The Yemeni government failed to keep him from returning to terrorism. Given the ostensible ties between former Gitmo detainees and previous attacks and plots against the embassies in Yemen, it is natural to ask: What role are former Gitmo detainees playing in the current threats? Moreover, both of these examples highlight the mistakes made during the Bush administration with respect to detainee transfers. Let us remember that the Bush administration itself wanted to close Gitmo and in an effort to do so agreed to a large number of suspect transfer decisions.  Yet, the Obama administration is apparently determined to make more suspect transfer decisions. Just this morning, John Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counter-terrorism, told CNN that the Obama administration is still committed to transferring Yemeni detainees to the cesspool that is Yemen. In December, for example, the Obama administration transferred Ayman Batarfi from Gitmo to Yemen. Batarfi is a known al Qaeda doctor who attended to wounded jihadists during the battle of Tora Bora, met with bin Laden at Tora Bora, and has admitted ties to al Qaeda's anthrax program. Despite all of this and more, Batarfi, who has been a committed jihadist for decades, was deemed one of the most transfer-worthy detainees by the Obama administration.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.