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How Al-Qaida in Yemen Became the Biggest Terrorist Threat to the U.S. How Al-Qaida in Yemen Became the Biggest Terrorist Threat to the U.S.

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How Al-Qaida in Yemen Became the Biggest Terrorist Threat to the U.S.

The National Journal Political Landscape is a weekly conversation with National Journal writers, editors, and outside experts on the news of the day.


In the United States, Yemen is largely an unknown country. Its Middle East neighbors Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan tend to get most of the attention.

But Yemen might pose the biggest terrorist threat to the United States in the coming years. At least that's the argument of Gregory Johnsen. Johnsen is the author of the new book, The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al-Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia. Johnsen explains how over the last three years, as the U.S. has focused its attention elsewhere in the Middle East, a strong al-Qaida presence has sprung up in Yemen. Since 2009, a group known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has grown from roughly 200 people to potentially several thousand, according to State Department estimates.

And AQAP is a different strain of al-Qaida than the networks formerly run by Osama bin Laden. AQAP grew out of the al-Qaida networks run by bin Laden, but was radicalized by a different set of events and now has a different set of goals. As President Obama enters his second term, AQAP shows no signs of slowing down, according to Johnsen.


Johnsen is a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen and Fulbright-Hays Fellow in Egypt. He also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan and is currently working toward a doctoral candidate in Near Eastern studies at Princeton University.

On this week's episode, Johnsen brings us the story of the rise, fall, and resurrection of al-Qaida in Yemen. It's a story that spans several decades, includes civil wars and a prison break through a tunnel dug with spoons, and continues through the recent uprisings and civil unrest across the country.

Check out last week's episode. National Journal Editorial Director Ron Fournier talks about his son's autism and an Autism Speaks board member discusses current U.S. policy regarding special education.

Check out all episodes of the Political Landscape.


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