San`a: Al-Qaida in Yemen, suspected in the thwarted mail bombing attempt, appears to be aggressively seeking to recruit American and European radicals who could provide an entry way for the group to carry out attacks in their homelands.
Yemen provides a potentially easy entry point for foreign radicals to link up with al-Qaida, with a number of popular Islamic religious and Arabic-language schools that attract students from around the world.
Already there has been at least one confirmed case -- the young Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly used a San`a language school as a cover to enter the country and meet with al-Qaida militants for training, before he made a botched attempt to blow up an American passenger jet on Christmas Day.
Since then, Yemeni security forces have cracked down, arresting a dozen Americans and an assortment of Europeans on suspicion of contacts with al-Qaida.
Evidence that those arrested actually contacted al-Qaida is sketchy, and some were likely caught up in the intensified Yemeni search. Two of the arrested Americans have since been deported and an unspecified number have been released, Yemeni security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk about the cases.
But concern is high over the potential for al-Qaida`s affiliate in this country to recruit militants with American or European passports. Among the senior figures in the group is the US-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whose English-language sermons advocating jihad, or holy war, against the United States have inspired a number of Western-born militants.
Al-Awlaki, who the US has put on a list of militants to kill or capture, was in e-mail contact with the Army psychiatrist accused of last year`s deadly shooting spree at the Fort Hood, Texas military base. US investigators say he also helped prepare Abdulmutallab for his failed attempt to bomb the Detroit-bound airliner.
The group has also issued an English-language Web magazine called Inspire.
Al-Qaida in Yemen is widely thought to have some 300 core fighters, most of them Yemenis and Saudis.
Recruiting militants living in the West would offer the group wide possibilities to carry out attacks. Radicals with European or North American passports can travel freely across most of the world, while militants from places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Pakistan must go through the thorough background checks involved in visa applications.