WADI DOAN, Yemen — Osama bin Laden’s father’s house is a decrepit, two-story mud-brick building, situated here at the end of a long, unpaved road flanked by date palms and grazing camels in a village built up the sides of a steep canyon.
This village, deep in the heart of Yemen’s eastern desert, has become known as Osama Bin Laden’s “ancestral homeland” and the crumbling remains of the family home stand as a reminder of the Al Qaeda’s leaders connection to the country.
Now Yemen has become a primary focus of U.S. counterterrorism efforts after a Yemeni group associated with Osama bin Laden’s organization claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
“Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula,” or AQAP, as the group has called itself on various militant Islamic websites, says it trained and equipped the Nigerian bomber in Yemen before he boarded the Detroit-bound flight in Amsterdam.
The detonator failed and passengers subdued the bomber, but the hunt is on in Yemen by CIA and U.S. Special Forces for clues as to how the bomber was purportedly radicalized and trained here.
The bin Laden ancestral home is in Wadi Doan, Yemen.
The long trail to understanding bin Laden’s connection to Yemen begins in some sense in Wadi Doan. Osama bin Laden’s father, Mohammad, left the village before World War II to make his fortune in the Saudi construction industry.
Mohammad died when his private jet crashed over the Asir province in Saudi Arabia in 1966. Osama is believed to have spent very little time in Yemen, according to research by author Steven Coll. But Osama bin Laden has long expressed deep emotional connections to the region and to his father’s ancestral land.
Al Qaeda is not new to Yemen, nor is Islamic militancy. The country has a long history of producing militants to fight abroad, and Al Qaeda carried out one of its most significant attacks against the U.S., the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen’s southern port city, in 2000.
But experts on Yemen say that the roots of AQAP have more to do with the current internal political and security situation in Yemen, and the exploitation of Yemeni’s weaknesses by foreign Al Qaeda operatives, than any loose familial connection that Osama bin Laden has to the country.
In recent years, the terrorist threat in Yemen has grown, as a new generation of leaders has developed AQAP with some guidance, it is believed, from Al Qaeda’s main base in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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