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How Does Al-Qaida Continue To Grow?


As we just heard, one of the suspected gunmen in the Paris attacks this week told French media he had been sent by Al-Qaeda in Yemen. New York Times Middle East correspondent Kareem Fahim just finished a month of reporting in that country. He spoke with us from his home base in Cairo, and I asked him what we know about the goals and influence of Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

KAREEM FAHIM: They are trying to impose Islamic state in Yemen. They advocate militancy, including abroad against targets like the United States. They're looking to purge Yemen of western influences as well. And they ebb and flow in terms of their strength, but we've seen changes recently that suggest that they are, again, growing in strength.

RATH: And can you sketch out the new battle lines? It's not just the Yemeni government fighting Al-Qaeda. There's a third player now.

FAHIM: Yes, that's right. The third player in Yemen now is a group called the Houthis. And the Houthis were a rebel movement based in northern Yemen, and they've expanded their influence in the last few months. They took over the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, in September, and their are advance has provoked a violent reaction from Al-Qaeda and from allies who seem concerned about the advance of the Houthis.

RATH: With three groups all fighting each other in the country and these various changing of alliances you're talking about, is there anywhere in Yemen that is stable?

FAHIM: Well, the fighting is not everywhere in Yemen. The fighting is concentrated in several flashpoints, you know, including places where the United States counterterrorism campaign has been very active, especially the missile strikes by drones in various provinces. But then, in the last couple of months, we've also seen this very worrying trend of extremist attacks on what appear to be civilian targets. In the last few weeks alone, there have been several attacks, including one last week that killed up to 40 people in the capital, Sana'a, outside a police academy.

RATH: The United States supports the Yemeni government, considers it a vital partner in the fight against Al-Qaeda. How does the instability in the country right now complicate both the partnership with the U.S. and the fight against Al-Qaeda?

FAHIM: Well, I think the question is absolutely right. I mean, it has complicated that fight. And it's, I think, also leading to questions about the strategy behind the counterterrorism campaign. At the moment, the United States finds itself supporting a president and a government that is growing weaker and weaker because of the turmoil and instability in the country. And the big question is what happens now? You know, I just returned from a month in Yemen. It feels really quite perilous there.

RATH: Kareem Fahim is a Middle East correspondent for the New York Times, and he's just back from reporting in Yemen. Kareem, thanks very much.

FAHIM: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.