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Al-Qaida expands in Middle East with car bomb attacks in Yemen

| Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

SANAA, Yemen — Under a heavy fog, al-Qaida militants disguised in military uniforms conducted car bomb attacks on three security and military posts in southern Yemen on Friday, killing 38 soldiers in the group's biggest assault in the country since last year.

The coordinated attacks point to how al-Qaida is exploiting the continued weakness of Yemen's military to rally at a time when the group's branches across the region grow more assertive. More than two years after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, factions of the group he led are taking advantage of turmoil in multiple Arab nations to expand their presence and influence.

In Syria, foreign jihadists linked to or inspired by al-Qaida have become such a powerful force in the rebellion that the Syrian opposition on Friday accused them of being opportunists hijacking the uprising against President Bashar Assad. After the coup in Egypt toppled the Islamist president, al-Qaida leaders have called on sympathizers to join militants' fight there against the military. Iraq's al-Qaida branch has stepped up attacks in that country and extended operations into neighboring Syria.

Last month, the United States temporarily closed 19 diplomatic missions across the Middle East and North Africa when intelligence agencies intercepted a message between al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri and Nasser al-Wahishi, also a one-time confidant of bin Laden who leads the Yemen branch, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

“I think there's been a promiscuous rush to write al-Qaida's obituary, and it's always been presumptuous,” said Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University.

Experts in extremist networks see no clear evidence of coordination between groups under the al-Qaida banner. But gains by one serve as powerful encouragement and recruiting tools for others.

‘The lateral connections — relationships between al-Qaida groups — create a latticed structure that adds to the resiliency of the network,” Katherine Zimmerman, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute told a hearing of a House subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence on Wednesday.

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