The first book-length treatment in English of al-Qaida’s operations in Yemen.
As increasingly more of the Middle East descends into chaos, the situation in Yemen has never been more pertinent. Johnsen, who has lived in and studied the country for years, posits that it represents the single most important battleground in the war between the West and Islamist militants. In a staccato page turner liberally peppered with bursts of gunfire and splatters of blood, he details the organizational structure of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the spy-vs.-spy intrigues that have plagued the nation for three decades. Johnsen delves into the personal lives and motivations of al-Qaida commanders and foot soldiers and incorporates troves of documents recovered from insurgent hideouts, but he necessarily gives way at the margins to speculation and creative reconstruction. Bearing more resemblance to a John le Carré potboiler than a political or historical primer, the book includes pages of operational details of plots hatched both by the militants and the intelligence agents working to capture them. Johnsen includes little of what could be considered deep background—analysis of the social, political and religious factors that have made Yemen such a hospitable home base for jihadists. In the end, neither side comes out looking especially impressive, and the plotlines of many misadventures could have been lifted from an episode of the Keystone Kops.
An entertaining, if a bit fluffy primer on the hold of terrorism in the more desolate reaches of the Middle East.