Sa'ana, the capital of Yemen, is an enchanting city. Unlike other ancient Arab capital its buildings are historical monuments to a once proud civilization that flourished at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula. Famous for its unique translucent alabaster windows known as gammariyas, which trace their origins back to the Sabaean rulers who built the skyscraper palace of Ghumdan 1,800 years ago, the city has a medieval flavor to it.
But as with many other nations whose colonial borders camouflage their true tribal makeup, Yemen is a country of gun-packing warlords, Wahabi imams, and a bloody history of internal conflict that rages in virtually every corner -- fertile territory for state sponsors of terror or terror groups like Al Qaeda and its recruiting operatives.
Indeed, for many months Yemen's government has been waging a struggle against a rebel Shia army (possibly funded by Iran's Revolutionary Guards) while dealing with a resurgence of Al Qaeda operatives who fled Iraq to Yemen -- another fault line between Shia and Sunni Islamic radicalism.
Radical Islamic ideology found a safe haven in Yemen in the 1950's when Mohammed Qutb the brother of Sayyid Qutb (the Egyptian born "Karl Marx" of Islamic extremist ideology) fled to Yemen after Sayyid was imprisoned by Egypt's President Nasser. Mohammed Qutb sought safe haven in Yemen until he was hired by the father of Osama Bin Laden to become his Islamic tutor.
Himself a Yemeni, Mohammed Awad Bin Laden came to Saudi Arabia from South Yemen sometime in the 1930's. As the Bin Ladens' traditional homeland, Yemen has always had a special appeal to the Bin Laden family including Osama Bin Laden and the many Islamic clerics who made the yearly Hajj from Jeddah enroute to Mecca. Al Qaeda has always had a strong foothold in Yemen.
Yemen has become another "Ground Zero" for radicalization because it is also a safe haven for Hizb ut-Tahrir -- a so-called Islamic educational organization fronting for radical Islamic terror recruiters originating out of Britain.
Anwar al Awlaki -- the U.S. born radical Islamic cleric who fled to Yemen in 2002 is a major figure in Hizb ut-Tahrir, and whose treatise "44 ways to support Jihad" has shown up in the seized computers of many native English-speaking terrorists, including that of Major Nidal Hassan and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab -- the alleged Nigerian-born Christmas eve airline bomber.
The potential role of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a financing and social networking front for Al Qaeda in Britain and in the U.S. and its possible link between the Nigerian plane bomber Abdulmutallab who studied in London and Yemen's American-born Anwar al Walaki warrants further investigation.
Yemen's fate, like Somalia's or Pakistan's, will help determine the future struggle against terrorism. The U.S. cannot afford to ignore Yemen's plight or the use of its territory by competing extremist terrorist organizations -- either Sunni or Shia.
The Obama Administration has played an increasingly important role in recent months in Yemen to try to stabilize the regime. Dismantling Hizb ut-Tahrir's and Al Qaeda's bases of operations in Yemen and killing the likes of Anwar al Awlaki are essential ingredients in that effort.
Follow Amb. Marc Ginsberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ambmcg