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 V.19 No.2 | January 14 - 20, 2010 

Thin Line

Express From Yemen

While many were stuffing Christmas stockings with toys and chocolate, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was stuffing his crotch with 80 grams of high-explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate. After being caught on a flight bound for Detroit, the Nigerian student told investigators he had been trained in Yemen by al Qaeda. So mainstream media began scorching Yemen, the country on the Arabian Sea coast called a “haven for Islamic jihadists” on the New York Times website.

ABC News maligned Yemen even more aggressively, reporting an investigation into a “broader terror plot” on its websites. One report suggested the attempt was planned by former Guantanamo prisoners #372 and #333, both identified in Yemeni al Qaeda broadcasts since their 2007 release. The next day, ABC News corrected the article, admitting that prisoner #333 was in Saudi custody during the episode. Even though the corrected article dropped its original allegations, it didn’t shake the Yemen terrorism heebie-jeebies.

Much has been made of the guesswork linking underwear-stuffing terrorist Abdulmutallab to notorious fundamentalist cleric Anwar al Awlaki, one of about 23 million people living in Yemen.

Then, as if there weren’t plenty enough suggestive tidbits to whip U.S. national security fears into a lather, Yemen foreign minister Abu Bakr al Qirbi approximated on BBC Radio that there could be 200 to 300 al Qaeda operatives in Yemen and said they could be planning more attacks.

Absent from all this attention is an inquiry into the state of the Yemeni people. Yemen has an overall 40 percent unemployment rate, according to the December issue of Le Monde diplomatique. Social unrest is pervasive, keeping secessionist violence alive in the south long after the ’94 civil war, and spurring a rebellion in the name of al Houthi, a former parliament member.

In the face of these internal worries, Yemen ambassador to the UN Abdullah al Saidi appeared on National Public Radio voicing the Yemen government’s need for additional military funding. According to Inter Press Service, Yemen received $69 million in U.S. military aid from 2002 to 2008, contributing to what al Saidi called the country’s “meager resources."

A week before the Christmas plot, the Yemen government carried out air strikes against suspected al Qaeda hideouts in the Abyan region. The New York Times and ABC News reported 34 militants killed, and the civilian death toll climbed to 84, according to witnesses and local journalists in the Yemen Times version of the same event.

A Dec. 20 article in the Yemen Times told of a mass protest organized in reaction to the disaster. Just four days after the air strike, thousands of Yemenis came from all over the country to demand an independent southern state amid the rubble.

Sure, U.S. media audiences might better empathize with airline safety concerns than with the Houthi call to revert to strict Hashemite rule. But this esoteric, doctrinal dispute warrants just as much consideration in the news as speculation about Abdulmutallab. Much has been made of the guesswork linking underwear-stuffing terrorist Abdulmutallab to notorious fundamentalist cleric Anwar al Awlaki, one of about 23 million people living in Yemen.

You don’t need the Alibi to tell you that U.S. news gluts itself on national security fears. But no one needs mainstream media inventing another national security threat.


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