Al Qaeda Superhighway?: More on Bin Laden Bridge Connecting Yemen and Horn

This is a thought provoking article. I agree with the author that a bridge connecting the two continents makes it potentially a lot easier for AQ elements to slip into Djibouti and attack American assets there.

That said, there are a couple issues I think we should consider before poo-pooing this bridge idea. For instance, there is the possibility that a bridge might actually HELP control the movement of terrorists and their weapons. The creation of a bridge will divert what for the most part was unregulated sea traffic to a controllable, monitorable route. Of course, shipping by sea will still continue, but  a bridge will still significantly alleviate traffic on sea routes and ports, making smuggling operations easier to detect. True, if security is too stringent, terrorist will simply turn to boats…but they do that now anyway, don’t they.

I also think we should be careful about being so alarmist. The reference to Tarik bin Laden and the notion that because the construction firm that designs and builds the bridge is connected to al Qaeda in someway (in any degree, really) – that it could have any relevance is rather rediculous…what, is Tarik going to design secret passages in the bridge for al Qaeda…maybe hidden IED ports. I guess he could give away the blueprints, so that they could blow up his bridge. Besides the possiblity that proceeds from construction could find their way back into al Qaeda hands, its hard to imagine how which construction company builds the thing could matter.

What do you think?   

Proposed Yemen-Djibouti Bridge Threatens AFRICOM Security

By Chris Heffelfinger, Olivier Guitta

Two major developments to unfold in the coming years signal Africa’s growing strategic importance, especially the Horn of Africa (HoA). As of October 1, the African continent came under the auspices of a newly created U.S. military command, AFRICOM, establishing one staff responsible for affairs with the 53 African states (http://www.africom.mil). The second development, potentially far more troubling, is the newly announced project to build the world’s longest bridge—17 miles connecting Yemen and Djibouti—under Tarek bin Laden’s Middle East Development LLC.The United States may finally be recognizing the significance of Africa to its own national interests. On the economic level, access to African oil and the will to counter China’s increasing presence on the continent are vital strategic interests that are pushing Washington to rationalize its approach. The U.S. wants to see its share of African oil imports go from 15% to 25% by 2015. In light of this, the security issue is paramount, and explains why U.S. involvement in Africa is growing. Recent U.S. military action in HoA more than showed the need for a dedicated military command to counter al-Qaeda’s presence and operations in the region. At the end of 2006, the U.S. military helped Ethiopian troops in their rapid assault against Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union, and in January 2007 American planes bombarded southern Somalia near the Kenyan border to unofficially strike an al-Qaeda site. Dating back to the 1990s, bin Laden and his organization have had operational ties to eastern Africa; first with Sudan, then of course in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The proposed construction of a bridge connecting Yemen and Djibouti, however, is likely to threaten the ongoing U.S. mission in Africa.HoA: al-Qaeda Breeding Ground?On the military and counter-terrorism level, Washington’s policy is clear: make sure that grey zones—the African “ungoverned spaces”—do not become a breeding ground for al-Qaeda. Yet, despite the conventional wisdom decreeing al-Qaeda’s desire to operate in failed states, recently declassified Harmony documents illustrate the serious challenges that the terrorist group has faced while operating in Somalia. The internal al-Qaeda situation reports found that the rampant warlordism prevalent in Somalia made it too difficult to do business. There were simply too many separate leaders to pay-off who were ultimately unreliable partners.Yemen, on the other hand, provides an ideal location for al-Qaeda operations, aside from President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s security services. Indeed, there has been much Salafi militancy in Yemen as of late. On July 14, an al-Qaeda militant drove an explosives-laden vehicle into a group of Spanish tourists visiting the ancient temple of the Queen of Sheba in Marib, killing eight Spaniards and two Yemenis (BBC News, July 14). In turn, Yemeni security services killed four al-Qaeda militants involved in the attack, one of whom escaped from a Sanaa prison last year. That escape, in which 23 prisoners fled through underground tunnels leading to a neighboring mosque, has only focused the spotlight further on Yemen’s security shortfalls. Some of those men—including al-Qaeda militants involved in the attacks on the USS Cole—are believed to be hiding near the Saudi border (al-Wasat, September 12; Terrorism Monitor, September 27).Since 2000, a spate of al-Qaeda attacks have been conducted in Yemen, aimed at destabilizing the U.S.-allied Saleh government. Seventeen American sailors were killed in the attack on the USS Cole off the port of Aden. Two years later, a similar attack was carried out against the French tanker Limburg, killing one and injuring 12. Other attacks have since been directed at oil facilities employing foreign workers. Even before these incidents, the Yemeni-Saudi border held the reputation of being one of the most notorious gun-running areas in the region (Terrorism Focus, April 8, 2004). Moreover, Abd al-Majid al-Zindani’s school, Jami’at al-Iman (Faith University), has produced a number of al-Qaeda militants, not to mention the even more nefarious Dar al-Hadith school in Dammaj, where reports of foreign students coming home in body bags made their way to the international press last March (Agence France-Presse, March 26). Then, a French and a British student, both converts attending the madrassa, were killed in skirmishes with Shiite rebels. The two were apparently part of a group of foreign students armed by school leaders to act as guards at night. The Salafi school appears to have been providing military training to its students as well as ideological instruction.Al-Qaeda’s activity and infrastructure in Yemen indicates a growing presence in the country, despite President Saleh’s cooperation with the U.S. war on terrorism. It is, of course, the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, with his father hailing from the valley of Hadramawt, in eastern Yemen, to the south of the Empty Quarter (al-rub` al-khali). Some terrorism experts have even questioned whether bin Laden has sought refuge in one of these areas after losing his sanctuary in Afghanistan in late 2001.Interestingly enough, the United States seems all the more aware of the dangerous situation in Yemen. As proof, on August 26, the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa warned its employees to avoid tourist sites, restaurants and shopping malls. Explaining that the risk of terrorist attacks against Westerners was considered high (al-Qaeda might want to lead a new terror wave campaign), they were recommended not to leave their workplace or residence except in case of a major emergency (al-Watan, August 28).Bridging the African Divide

Impacting these developments is a planned bridge connecting Yemen and Djibouti. This past April, the Dubai-based Middle East Development LLC issued a notice-to-proceed to Noor City Development Corp., based in Napa, CA, authorizing the firm to “proceed with the planning, development, construction and management of the bridge between Yemen and Djibouti” (Engineering News Record, May 1). The Saudi billionaire and half-brother to Osama, Tarek Bin Laden, heads the project, estimated at $10-20 billion. The project enjoys the full support of the presidents of Djibouti and Yemen.

Yet, Tarek Bin Laden’s pedigree should add additional concerns. More than merely a developer, in the 1990s he was general supervisor of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a fraudulent Saudi group designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as having aided al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups’ fundraising efforts. The IIRO, or Hay’at al-Igatha al-Islamiya al-‘Alamiyaa, is one of eight bodies under the umbrella of the Mecca-based Muslim World League (WML). The IIRO’s terrorist ties go back to the first Afghan jihad against the Soviets, when Osama bin Laden’s Maktab al-Khidmat (Office of Services) worked with Wael Julaidan, then with the IIRO and WML (Government’s Evidentiary Proffer Supporting the Admissibility of Co-Conspirator Statements, United States of America v. Enaam Arnaout, Jan. 6, 2003). The IIRO provided logistical support to the mujahideen and Julaidan, according to the federal government, and “was a leading supporter of the jihad through the relief organization network.” On August 3, 2006, the Treasury Department designated the Philippine and Indonesian branches of the IIRO, as well as its Saudi executive director, “for facilitating fundraising for al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups.” The group was identified as a major fundraiser for Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya.

All of this begs the question: how could Osama bin Laden’s half-brother be constructing a bridge linking Yemen to the HoA at the birth of AFRICOM? The project physically and figuratively links al-Qaeda in Arabia to the African continent, posing a serious long-term security dilemma. For the next year, the nascent AFRICOM will take over responsibilities from EUCOM, under the recently confirmed General William E. Ward. This new structure will not mean more U.S. military troops on African soil. The only U.S. soldiers present (1,800 in all) will be the ones already stationed in Djibouti, a potentially short drive from Yemen.

In fact, the U.S. military decided to settle in Djibouti after the September 11 attacks for a few reasons. First, Djibouti is crucially located at the Horn of Africa. Second, it is a moderate Muslim country and is politically stable amid a chaotic region. U.S. Rear Admiral James Hart, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), U.S. Central Command, recently explained to Le Monde: “In 2002, we thought that al-Qaeda might move from Afghanistan to Africa and we wanted to have a military force here. We also wanted our soldiers to train Africans in order for them to get professional armies, capable of fighting off the terrorist threat. But this threat did not materialize as we thought it would.” Third, Djibouti is a safe location, due to the long-standing presence of French troops, whose mission is to protect Djibouti.

In light of this secure environment, Americans came to Djibouti with little military firepower: two combat companies, a few Blackhawk helicopters, a C-130 transport plane, three to four P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircrafts; but no fighter jets. It appears that the United States is there to stay; indeed, it recently renewed its lease for five more years with an option for 10 additional, and the size of the camp has just been multiplied by five.

Six years after the September 11 attacks, it is baffling to imagine a project under Tarek bin Laden, through a California-based firm, linking Yemen to Africa. Taking into regard al-Qaeda’s growing presence in Yemen, it is even more puzzling as to how the U.S. envisions this project promoting greater security or helping to combat terrorism in the region. What does seem a given, however, is that U.S. troops (at the only U.S. base in Africa) could end up being at far greater risk than they are today.

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6 Responses to “Al Qaeda Superhighway?: More on Bin Laden Bridge Connecting Yemen and Horn”

  1. Kailash Chandra Tiwari Says:

    While preparing the Master Plan of National Highways / Expressways for Yemen, in 2003 – 04, I had initiated an innovative concept and had proposed a Multi – Purpose and Expressway Sea-Link from Yemen to Djibouti.

    After making a detailed presentation, I had submitted a Master Plan to the Government of Yemen. The Plan recommended undertaking a detailed feasibility study of Sea-Link. I had worked as a Transportation Planning Specialist with the SMEC International on a World Bank Financed Major Project.

    The recommendations were made to the Minister of Highways of Yemen and to the World Bank. The Minister and Engineers were thrilled and pleased, and jumped from their seats.

    I am delighted to know that a Dubai-based company has proposed building a bridge across Mandab Strait on the Red Sea, to link Djibouti to Yemen, see below.

    Best regards

    Kailash Tiwari,

    +971-50-1891659
    208, Al Hallawi (14) apartment, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE

  2. PANAFRICA Says:

    This guy is obviously on a different level of bias and HATE, The Ideology of applying Everything and Anything to BUSH’S myth of AL-QAEDA…has been going on for a while..

    Before this guy ever thought of all the GOOD this very expensive project will do for the Black MASSES he thought of the US military Base being attacked by the “Muslimsists Islamistsss”..not about the millions of poor people all over Africa, but the 1000+ us forces

    Just like Bush’s BLOOD BATH in Somalia that has created the WORLDS worst Humanitarian Problem displacing and turning millions into sleeping with scorpions and snakes OUTSIDE…

    It is not Right! people who come from Somalia Know whats happening their…and YET never hear it on TV instead they hear about news that is in there(US’s) interests like the Oil rich Darfur Sudan Region..(BRITNEY)!..Proof that the media is totally UNFAIR and corrupt…and a monopoly!

    Anyways I would like to tell this guy who wrote this to think about all of those starving KIDS first think about how the USA didn’t invest and the KRAZY! ISLAM will soon….

    Let me talk about Somalia for a second. The country was in an anarchy for almost two decades and controlled by warlords… when the ICU a group composed of many different clans and people who were previously fighting a civil war for 18 yrs started making progress in capturing and restoring order to cities and towns controlled by US-Taxpayer Backed WARLORDS who instigated the civil war and were and still are hated by most of Somalia…because of their lack to restore order and democracy when the overthrew the previous president in 91…

    After defeating these criminals and restoring CALM in somalia something that was unthinkable before they were faced and still are faced with their biggest challenge a well equipped Army from neighboring Ethiopia…WELL equipped by USA a regime that has put 4 million people in its country at risk of starvation today and a regime that has been occupying half of Somalia for decades…

    WHY is it any of their business if Somalia was calm again..Why did they have to destroy PEACE in a country that hasn’t seen peace for almost two decades…Well the excuse here was AGAIN!!

    ISLAM the people that actually FIXED somalia was MUSLIMS oooohh noooo!! ..AND ISLAMIC STATE that would THREATEN the CHRISTIAN KENYA AND ETHIOPIA and yes thats right I guess they were gonna fight kenya and ethiopia..BECAUSE every other Somali is willing to fight them as soon as they create a functioning Government and well equipped army that would finally free Occupied somalilands WAS it bad for the USA to Revolt Against the BRITISH no!! anyways the world is not FAIR we should all no this by now huh?

    The plans were to divide and destroy Somalia while its still DOWN seriously if they couldn’t do it for the last two decades how are they gonna do it know (the DISIDER knows how!) Maybe he thought he could do better than the clinton adm REMEMBER BLACK HWK DWN….

    I don’t even care anymore this WAR thing is animal instinct and it will never go away and the ones who wield the POWER will always abuse it, that I believe is animal instinct too!!!

    LET IT BE AS IT IS, LET ALLAH DECIDE WHO GOES TO INTERNAL PEACE AND WHO BURNS FOR ETERNITY

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