Made up largely of Saudis and Yemenis, AQAP is reportedly being reinforced by veteran jihadi fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to some analysts. It is able to work in relative freedom in Yemen because of the Yemeni government's preoccupation with its own more pressing issues, namely a full-blown rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south. Another reason the Yemeni government tolerates the group's presence may be because the jihadi fighters sometimes assist Yemeni forces in military operations against the rebels, a Western diplomat said – all of which make the precarious state a potential haven for militants.
"In Yemen there is great potential for [AQAP] to take advantage of undergoverned spaces to regroup, plot, and prepare for attacks against US and Western targets in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the region," says Christopher Boucek, author of a September report on Yemen called "Avoiding a Downward Spiral."
The Saudi government, which shares a long, rugged border with Yemen, is extremely concerned about its neighbor's internal turmoil.
"Yemen is the backyard of Saudi security," says Mustafa Alani, a counterterrorism expert at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. "The Saudis look at Yemen and see separatism, sectarianism, terrorism, so they have genuine concerns."
Yemen: A terrorist haven?
In an effort to stop further deterioration, the Saudi government is publicly "standing 100 percent behind" the Yemeni government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, says Mr. Alani. "They think it must be supported despite all its shortcomings."