Yemen’s Al-Qaeda arm losing ability to carry out attacks abroad: KSA

Smoke and fire billow during a controlled explosion by Yemeni experts to destroy explosives and mines laid by Houthi rebels in the southern city of Aden. (AFP)
Updated 24 March 2017

Yemen’s Al-Qaeda arm losing ability to carry out attacks abroad: KSA

PARIS: Al Qaeda’s Yemeni arm is losing its ability to export militancy overseas after sustained military pressure on its operations, and Daesh and Shiite militants are instead Riyadh’s main internal concern, Saudi Arabian officials said on Wednesday.
The US and Britain on Tuesday announced new restrictions on carry-on electronic devices on planes from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa in response to unspecified security threats.
The Saudi Interior Ministry’s chief security spokesman Mansour Al-Turki told reporters in Paris that he had no specific information on what prompted the new curbs — which also affect Saudi Arabian Airlines — but he suggested there may be a link to Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
“The US has said they raided Al-Qaeda people in Yemen and they were able to gather some information, but I don’t know whether they found something linked to this,” he said.
Asked whether they believed Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had the capacity to project operations overseas with innovative bomb designs, including embedding them inside computers, however, the officials said the group had been severely constrained by fighting on multiple fronts.
“They don’t have the power to export their activities,” said Abdullah Al-Shehri, a senior counter-terrorism official from the Interior Ministry.
“It is fighting Islamic State (Daesh), which is trying to take its place. It is not getting new fighters and after the (Saudi-led) Desert Storm operation it is also fighting the legitimate government and the Houthi (rebels),” he said.
AQAP has in the past plotted to down US airliners and claimed responsibility for the 2015 attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. It also has boasted of having one of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan Al-Asiri. The US estimates it has 2,000 to 3,000 fighters.
Al-Turki said Riyadh considered the threat of an attack from Daesh on its soil to be greater given that some 3,500 Saudis had traveled to join the group in Syria and Iraq. Of those, 1,500 remain in the conflict zone with the rest killed.
“(Al-) Qaeda actually has not been involved in any real kind of terrorism-related incident in Saudi Arabia for three years,” he said. “Most of the incidents came from Daesh or militant groups related to Shiites in the eastern province.”
Al-Turki is leading a delegation of Interior Ministry and counter-terrorism officials in Paris to discuss wider cooperation between the two allies.
The talks have also focused on ways to prevent attacks including with a new digital system implemented in the Kingdom to identify potential lone wolf militants radicalized on social media.


US ‘disappointed’ by Turkey mosque move on Hagia Sophia

People, some wearing face masks, pray outside the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul on July 10, 2020 as they gather to celebrate after a top Turkish court revoked the sixth-century Hagia Sophia's status as a museum, clearing the way for it to be turned back into a mosque. (AFP)
Updated 12 July 2020

US ‘disappointed’ by Turkey mosque move on Hagia Sophia

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has chipped away at the Muslim-majority country’s secularism, announced Muslim prayers on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site

WASHINGTON: The US said it was “disappointed” by Turkey’s decision to turn the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and urged equal access for all visitors.
“We are disappointed by the decision by the government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
“We understand the Turkish government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all,” she said on Friday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has chipped away at the Muslim-majority country’s secularism, announced Muslim prayers on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.
A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Erdogan’s announcement came after the cancellation of a decision under modern Turkey’s secularizing founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.

We understand the Turkish government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all.

Morgan Ortagus, State Department spokeswoman

Erdogan went ahead despite an open appeal to the NATO ally by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an evangelical Christian who frequently speaks about religious freedom.
In a statement last week, Pompeo called the museum status an “exemplar” of Turkey’s “commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history” of the country and said a change risked “diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden also said on Friday he deeply regretted Turkey’s decision.
Biden called on Erdogan to reverse it “and instead keep this treasured place in its current status as a museum, ensuring equal access for all.”