The group also has been blamed for the assassinations earlier this year of three provincial officials in Yemen. In 2008, militants attacked the U.S. Embassy in Sana, leaving 19 dead, including a U.S. citizen. In 2007, eight Spanish tourists and their guides were killed in a bombing near an architectural site.
Yemen's Al Qaeda wing startled Washington in 2000 when a motorboat packed with explosives slammed into the U.S. destroyer Cole in the port of Aden, killing 17 sailors.
Jemhi said these and other assaults on Western targets indicate that Al Qaeda has operatives or sympathizers in Yemen's security forces and intelligence agencies. It is also a sign that Yemen has become a rallying point for militants across Europe and the Middle East, much like what unfolded in northern Iraq in 2002, when U.S. bombing of Al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan forced militants to seek new bases.
"They have agents within the government," Jemhi said of Yemen's Al Qaeda branch. "Globally, Al Qaeda may be hurt militarily, but this is not the case in Yemen. There are plenty of weapons and arms here. Yemen is the perfect state for Al Qaeda to grow. The jihadists can benefit from all the country's chaos."
Staff writer Fleishman was recently on a reporting trip to Yemen.