Intelligence agencies have identified several Australian citizens they believe are working with al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, amid warnings for all Australians to immediately leave Yemen ahead of a possible terrorist strike.
Officials yesterday began contacting Australian passport-holders known to be in the troubled country who they fear could become victims of a terrorist attack.
The push to evacuate the Australians is connected to a threat by AQAP against American interests in the Middle East and Africa.
That threat, which was based in part on intercepted communication by a senior al-Qa’ida figure in Pakistan and a senior AQAP figure in Yemen, prompted the US to close 19 of its embassies and consulates amid fears they would be subjected to the kind of assault unleashed on its embassy in the Libyan city of Benghazi last year.
US officials, including then secretary of state Hillary Clinton, came under savage political attack after the US mission in Benghazi was attacked by al-Qa’ida-linked extremists, resulting in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, as well as three other Americans.
The incident was a humiliation for the Americans and prompted investigations about the adequacy of security as well as accusations the Obama administration had wilfully misled the public about the nature of the attack, which it initially claimed stemmed from a protest.
The Australian understands that Foreign Affairs officials yesterday began contacting Australian citizens who have registered their presence in the country with the department, which provides consular services to Yemen, on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, through its post in Saudi Arabia.
It is understood that there are between 24 and 26 Australians who have registered and many more who have not.
Intelligence officials are also understood to be concerned about the activities of a small number of Australians they believe are fighting with AQAP, now considered the most effective and formidable al-Qa’ida branch.
It is understood at least one, but probably two, Australian men are members of AQAP, which was run by American-Yemeni cleric Anwar al Awlaki until his death by American drone strike in 2011. It is understood the Australians, one of whom is a dual citizen, have been in Yemen for some time.
They were not among the Australians DFAT was seeking to contact as their location was considered “unreachable”.
The Australian has been told the two, both men, are considered “foot soldiers” and not part of the AQAP leadership group.
Yemen has long been a concern to counter-terrorism officials. Large swathes of the country lay outside the control of the government and al-Qa’ida has become firmly entrenched.
Under the guidance of al Awlaki, AQAP became a major source of violent jihadist propaganda aimed at radicalising young Western men.
It was AQAP that produced Inspire magazine, an English-language internet magazine full of extremist material and practical instruction in bomb-making and terrorist tactics.
The Boston bombers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, are understood to have constructed their two pressure-cooked bombs from the first edition of Inspire magazine, which contained an article, “How to make a bomb from the kitchen of your mom”.
Yemen has long been a source of concern to Australian officials.
It was home for a time to the eldest sons of Rabiyah Hutchinson, the Australian woman described by security agencies as the “matriarch” of radical islam.
The two men were arrested and cleared of terrorism charges in Yemen in 2006. They were arrested in November 2006 with a friend from Sydney and accused of being part of an al-Qa’ida cell running guns to Somalia. They were held in a Yemeni jail for almost eight weeks until they were cleared and deported. They returned to Australia in 2008.
In 2010 Sydney woman Shyloh Giddins was detained by Yemeni internal security forces after her passport was cancelled by then foreign minister Stephen Smith at the request of ASIO.
Ms Giddins was detained as part of a sweep of suspected extremists. Her detention prompted a consular emergency for Australian officials who were intensely concerned for her two children. They were initially in the care of another Australian woman, who disappeared.Source: The Australian – Aussies working with al-Qa’ida identified amid calls for Yemeni evacuation
- Australians warned to get out of Egypt (craighill.net)
- Australians urged to leave Yemen immediately over fears of Al Qaeda attack (abc.net.au)
- Yemen’s government says it foiled al-Qaida plots against key cities, ports and gas facilities (vancouversun.com)
- Yemen’s government says it foiled al-Qaida plots (cnsnews.com)
- Air Force evacuating U.S. Embassy personnel in Yemen (upi.com)
- ‘Drone strike kills 4 suspected al-Qaida members in Yemen’ (jpost.com)
- Westerners urged to flee Yemen after threat of attacks (independent.ie)
- Yemen foils al-Qa’ida terror plots (independent.ie)
- ‘Legion of doom’ phone call prompted al-Qa’ida terror alert (independent.co.uk)
- US drone strikes kill seven alleged al-Qaida members in Yemen (theguardian.com)
- US will not reverse Middle East terror precautions in wake of foiled plot (theguardian.com)