Saudi Arabia remains committed to the fight against the Yemen-based branch of al Qaeda, even as Saudi forces battle Shi’ite Houthi rebels who have overrun much of the country, Riyadh’s ambassador to Washington insisted Wednesday.
Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir angrily rejected suggested that his country has somehow supported the terror group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) by targening the Houthis.
“Supported?” Mr. al-Jubeir said when pressed on the matter. “We are fighting al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and all around us. We’ve had many of our security officers killed by terrorists and we have had our citizens murdered by terrorists.”
“Nobody should doubt our resolve, nor should anyone doubt the resolve of the United States in going after AQAP in Yemen,” he said.
Many analysts in the region see the Yemen fight as a proxy between Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Muslim allies against Iran, the Middle East’s largest Shiite power. The situation is further complicated because AQAP includes many Saudi nationals in its ranks.
Reports of links between AQAP and Saudi Arabia are also fueled by group history. A 2012 report by the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point noted how AQAP came into its current form when the Yemeni and Saudi branches of al Qaeda merged in 2009.
The years since have seen the U.S. target the group with hundreds of drone strikes inside Yemen. The most recent strike, carried out over the past week, killed AQAP’s top cleric, Ibrahim al-Rubaish — a Saudi national.
Amb. al-Jubeir said Thursday that Riyadh is “working very closely with the U.S.” in the campaign against AQAP inside Yemen. “We are very vigilant about fighting and hopefully defeating AQAP in Yemen and I think our track record in doing so has been very good in the last few years,” he said.
He declined to comment, however, when asked whether Saudi air strikes, which have been occurring daily in Yemen since late-last month, have specifically targeted any AQAP positions.
“I don’t want to get into that game,” Mr. al-Jubeir said. “I’m sorry.”
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