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Al-Shihri Redux (With apologies to Trollope)

Most people will probably find the confirmation that another former Guantanamo detainee, Yusif al-Shihri, has rejoined al-Qaeda the most interesting part of this story, but for me the most fascinating part is what the travel of Said al-Shihri’s wife to Yemen tells us about the current situation in Yemen as well as Saudi’s counter-terrorism strategy. Both men are on Saudi’s list of 85 suspects.

The story (here in English, I haven’t had a chance to find the original Arabic from ‘Ukaz, but I’ll look when I have a chance) revolves around one man’s attempt to get his 10-year-old son back after he traveled to Yemen with his mother, who is also Said al-Shihri’s wife.

The last issue of Sada al-Malahim told us that al-Shihri’s wife and children had joined him in Yemen, this story confirms that (although I had never really doubted it). Combined with the statement about al-‘Awfi, I think this tells us two things.

First, Saudi’s counter-terrorism strategy at least when it comes to recidivism is much more draconian than many in the US think. I believe that if what Saudi Arabia did to convince al-‘Awfi to turn himself in ever came to light, US policy makers would be forced to back away from all talk of sending more prisoners to Saudi – the public outcry would just be too great. I attempted to get a few editors and reporters interested in this story, but I seemed to have failed to convince them exactly how revolutionary al-‘Awfi’s surrender was and the sort of changes in Saudi tactics it represented. Apparently, I’m not as convincing as I sometime imagine myself to be.

Second, I think this is an indication of how much space and comfort al-Qaeda in Yemen has – the fact that al-Shihri would bring his wife and kids to Yemen rather than leave them in Saudi Arabia, regardless of the threats of collective punishment. Inevitably, some will see this as evidence that AQ is in cahoots with Yemen’s security services, which I do not believe to be the case. Rather, I think this shows us that AQ does not feel itself directly threatened in Yemen and that is has a significant amount of freedom of movement, largely because the Yemeni government is distracted with other crises, as I have argued elsewhere.


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