New Focus on Yemen in Counter-Terror Fight

A publicity banner from the Yemeni al Qaeda Internet statement claiming responsibility for the attack on a U.S. airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day.
Yemeni al Qaeda Web site

The man who allegedly tried to blow up that a Delta-Northwest flight into Detroit on Christmas has told investigators that he got both his bomb and his training in Yemen, where he spent several months this year.

At the end of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen is home to a growing branch of al Qaeda that threatens to strike the U.S. again. And U.S. counter-terror forces are responding, as CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar reports.

Under the black flag are the followers of al Qaeda in Yemen. It's an increasingly powerful, increasingly dangerous organization beyond the control of Yemen's beleaguered government.

Yemen is fighting two wars: a civil war in the south and al Qaeda in the north. The U.S. has been training Yemeni troops in counter-terrorism and providing them with weapons - weapons used in the two strikes over the last week that killed about 60 fighters.

"They are a threat not only to Yemen but they are also a threat to all our neighboring countries," Yemeni Foreign Minister Dr. Abu Baker Al-Kerbi said in an exclusive conversation with CBS News. "This is the beginning of our attacks against al Qaeda but I think our assessments of the attacks have had the impact we expected."

Al Qaeda first struck a U.S. target in Yemen in 2000, with the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole and then a car bomb attack against the U.S. embassy in Sana'a last year.

But this is a threat that reaches beyond the region. Among those being sheltered in Yemen is Anwar al Awlaki, the American-born radical preacher who advised Maj. Nidal Hassan, the soldier who killed 13 in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood.

There are at least a dozen former Guantanamo inmates among Yemen's al Qaeda members.

"They have helped al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, increased their capability and they are thinking what these people can bring is a great deal of experience and that is invaluable in any terrorist organization," said Peter Clarke, a CBS News consultant and former head of counterterrorism for the London police.

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Al Qaeda in Yemen has shown it has the capacity to be diabolically creative, as seen in the bloody aftermath of an August suicide attack targeting the head of counterterrorism in Saudi Arabia; the bomber had arrived from Yemen

To evade security screening, the bomber had taken a trick from the narcotics trade and carried a pound of high explosives, plus a detonator, inside his rectum.

Al Qaeda bragged then that it was working on new and even more dangerous ideas. It claimed that the device Abdulmutallab used had been tested and would be perfected.