The news this morning that Yemeni security forces foiled an al-Qaeda plot to seize oil and gas export facilities and a provincial capital raises a timely question: Why does the terror network even care about the tiny, impoverished country and its puny oil infrastructure—especially when Saudi Arabia is right next door?
Here are the most compelling reasons, most of them prompted by recent events:
But here’s perhaps the most important reason: Since its creation back in the mid-1990s (when it was actually a union of many pre-existing militant and terrorist groups), al-Qaeda has prized its ability to control territory. It has always used Yemen as a safe haven for training, logistics and planning operations, thanks to its status as a near-failed state afflicted by intractable political, economic and religious problems. But AQAP is now expanding into more of a regional and global presence, and bolstering its maritime component to engage in more piracy and shipping attacks. As such, it needs more turf, especially near strategic areas like oil towns and coastal export terminals.
The Yemeni official downplayed reports coming out of Sana’a, saying that there was never any real possibility of al-Qaeda seizing and holding actual cities. Instead, he said, it’s more about al-Qaeda’s interest in the ungoverned spaces around them. “They are trying to secure a regional backyard—one that gives them access to Saudi, to the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Aden, to maritime routes and strategic choke points.”