Tags: Osama | guard | Yemen | Qaida

Ex-bin Laden Bodyguard Among Jihadists in Yemen

Tuesday, 05 Jan 2010 10:32 PM


SANAA, YEMEN -- When he served in the Afghan mountains as Osama bin Laden's personal bodyguard, Nasser al-Bahri said, he was known as "The Killer." Today, Bahri is a business consultant in Yemen who favors Western-style pinstriped shirts, crisp slacks and black loafers. But his ideas are still radical: Ask him whether jihadists should kill Americans on U.S. soil and he replies without hesitation, "America is a legitimate target."

The arc of Bahri's life helps to explain why Yemen was an attractive place for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who allegedly tried to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas, to be indoctrinated into the Islamist world of jihad. Thousands like Bahri, who have returned from wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other Muslim lands, are disengaged from the fight against the West, yet express sympathy for al-Qaeda's violent core philosophies.

As the United States steps up its engagement here, it faces the delicate task of fighting terrorism without alienating Yemen's highly tribal and religiously conservative society. Like Pakistan and Afghanistan, Yemen has abundant weapons and men experienced in guerrilla warfare who resent U.S. policies and have tribal, social and inspirational ties to al-Qaeda. Many fear that such men could become perfect recruits, especially if anti-American sentiments grow or Yemen plunges deeper into chaos.

"These people are already angry and many are unemployed," said Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst. "The only option they will have if fighting starts is to join al-Qaeda. Where else will they go?"

He added that Yemen is a place where "you cannot prevent contacts between young impressionable men and their jihadist heroes."

Some of al-Qaeda's best-known figures, many with strong ties to bin Laden, live in this Middle Eastern nation led by a weak government and beset by multiple emergencies, from civil war to soaring poverty and dwindling oil reserves.

Abdul Majid al-Zindani, bin Laden's former spiritual adviser, whom the United States has classified as a terrorist, is the most powerful religious figure here today. Senior Yemeni officials both fear him and seek his support. Nasser al-Wuhayshi -- bin Laden's former personal secretary -- is the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which U.S. officials believe trained Abdulmutallab and equipped him with chemical explosives sewn into his underwear.

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2010-32-05
Tuesday, 05 Jan 2010 10:32 PM
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