Press Release

Senator Gillibrand Opening Statement for Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Yemen

Jan 20, 2010

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand released the following opening statement from today’s Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Yemen: Confronting Al-Qaeda, Preventing State Failure:

“I appreciate Chairman Kerry convening this critical hearing on the first full day that the Senate begins its new session. The attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on December 25was a chilling reminder of the looming threats facing our country. I want to welcome our administration and outside experts who have come to speak to us about a key challenge facing the President, the Congress and the nation: how to address the the growth of extremists in Yemen and the conditions that have fostered a direct threat to the U.S.

“President Obama showed strong leadership in response to the Christmas terror attempt planned in Yemen, by quickly undertaking a comprehensive review and taking full responsibility for our nation’s security.  He and his administration made changes to strengthen passenger screening, reform the watch-lists, and improve intelligence information gathering.  A critical extensive review is urgently needed to continue to make the reforms necessary to keep Americans safe. 

“As Secretary Clinton has said, so long as hundreds of millions of young people see no hope for improving their lives, we cannot put a stop to terrorism or defeat ideologies of violence and extremism. What we need to do is combine development with diplomatic and military strategies, and carry them out in smarter ways, relying on partnerships with benefiting countries and their indigenous civil society and development groups.  

“Islamic radicalism in Yemen is not new. In 2000, the USS Cole was attacked in a Yemeni port. In 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Yemen was attacked twice. Yet, the Yemeni Government did not extradite the mastermind responsible for the attack on the USS Cole to the U.S. Jamal al Badawi, despite requests by U.S. law enforcement. Rather, he was released from local jail by Yemeni authorities.  Despite these signals of growing extremism, for years we turned our attention away from Yemen.

“President Obama’s team, led by Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, refocused the U.S. intelligence and other resources on Yemen. Brennan himself visited Yemen several times in 2009, and there were numerous other intelligence visits. The President’s foreign policy team has been reviewing the situation in Yemen.

“In recent hearings and briefings about Afghanistan, I have asked what prevents Al Qaeda from moving its base to Yemen or Somalia. While I heard good answers assessing the situation in Afghanistan, I did not hear a satisfactory answer regarding what we are doing about Yemen or future Yemens.  We do not have a comprehensive civilian-military program yet.

“I expect to hear from the administration such a plan – one that combines both civilian and military strategy, one that draws on the knowledge of our experts on Yemen and on extremist groups, and one which ensures that we are working closely with local groups and regional leaders.  At the end of this month, the U.S. will join the U.K., Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other nations in London to plan a multilateral effort with respect to Yemen. This is critical.

“As President Obama has demonstrated, we must work on international threats through multilateral fronts.  This strategy makes sense when it comes to a place like Yemen, where neighboring countries have a fuller understanding of the factors that lead to terrorism and where the local population will often more easily welcome their support than from U.S. or European-led efforts.

“The conflict, corruption and poverty in Yemen have made it a breeding ground for Al Qaeda. It is critical that we confront and prevent future Yemen-based terror attempts. But we must not stop here. I want to be sure we are evaluating all areas and properly allocating resources across the globe today to respond to tomorrow’s threats. 

“I also want to note that Senator Kerry issued an investigative report yesterday that contains very troubling findings about Americans going to Yemen and Somalia, where they are in some cases known to be and in other cases suspected to be joining Al Qaeda or affiliated organizations.  Some of these Americans were radicalized in U.S. prisons, others in their communities, and yet others once they went abroad.

“The findings of this report and other information that has come to light in recent months demonstrates how enormously complicated the terrorist threat is.  We must be vigilant, innovative and smart in addressing radicalization at home and abroad.  Polls show that Al Qaeda is losing hearts and minds in Pakistan and elsewhere. We must work as much as possible with partners in other countries, and involve communities to weaken the factors that promote radicalization.”