KUWAIT CITY, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- The interior ministers of the Persian Gulf Arab states met this month to discuss what they viewed as a dangerous new development that could put their states at risk: reports that a number of al-Qaida's top operatives have moved to Yemen from Iran.
Among them is Saifa al-Adel, a former colonel in the Egyptian army's Special Forces, and considered one of the top al-Qaida figures from the first generation of jihadists led by Osama bin Laden.
A variety of recent intelligence reports claim he and a dozen other senior figures who were either held in Iran after fleeing from Afghanistan in late 2001 or were allowed to operate by Tehran, have left the Islamic Republic over the last 18 months or so.
This has injected a cadre of battle-hardened and highly seasoned veterans into al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a highly effective operational unit based in Yemen and made up primarily of Yemenis and Saudis.
Adel, once al-Qaida's operations chief, was a key figure in Egypt's al-Gamaa Islamiya, the Islamic Group and is close to bin Laden's Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Two other veterans reportedly accompanied Adel from Iran. One has been identified as Mahfouz Ould Walid, a Mauritanian whom the Americans mistakenly claimed to have killed in eastern Afghanistan last January. The other is a Somali known as Sheikh Hassan.
The way that security experts in the region see it, Adel and his companions have the ability to build links between al-Qaida is the Islamic Maghreb, a North African group largely dominated by Algerian veterans, and jihadists fighting in Somalia with Islamist militants known as al-Shabaab.
AQIM is extremely active and causing increasing concern among the regional powers who, with the possible exception of Algeria and Morocco, have little experience combating jihadists or the security infrastructure to be able to do so with any expectation of success.
The Somali militants have in recent months been reinforced with al-Qaida veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to U.S. and regional officials.
The possibility of these three al-Qaida nodes operating together presents a potentially dangerous development, particularly as a growing number of U.S. citizens from Somalia, able to move around the United States without difficulty, have been reported joining al-Shabaab.
The interior ministers from the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain -- met Nov. 7 in Kuwait.
During the session, Saudi Arabia's minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdelaziz, said that AQAP was trying to recruit candidates for suicide missions in Morocco.
Kuwait's minister, Sheik Jaber al-Khaled al-Sabah, presented a draft of an agreement between the six GCC counter-terrorism agencies to make cooperation "obligatory and binding" in fighting al-Qaida, which has called for the overthrow of the gulf monarchies.
The GCC has an abysmal record when it comes to banding together to combat common threats. Attempts to forge an effective military alliance have foundered on the traditional rivalries of the various royal houses.
Saudi Arabia, the dominant GCC power and the one most at risk from al-Qaida, sought to forge a similar anti-terrorist union in 2007 -- and failed.
The other GCC states have escaped serious al-Qaida attacks but gulf leaders seem to believe the risk is growing.
Sheik Jaber told the gathering another of the al-Qaida veterans who migrated from Iran to Yemen was Suleiman al-Ghaith, a Kuwaiti who once was bin Laden's spokesman.
He initially went to North Waziristan in Pakistan's tribal belt where bin Laden and Zawahiri are reportedly hiding. From there, he traveled to Oman's Dhofar Province on the Arabian Sea coast and then to neighboring Yemen.
Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani journalist with access to senior jihadist figures in Pakistan and Afghanistan, quoted "well-placed sources" as saying that "African-based operatives have traveled recently to Pakistan and Afghanistan … as well as to several Middle Eastern countries, to organize further attacks against U.S. interests in tandem with the (10th) anniversary of Sept. 11" next year.
Said al-Adel may be a key figure here. He opposed bin Laden's 9/11 carnage because he feared it would trigger an overwhelming U.S. response, which it did.
Shahzad, Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, indicated that this time there would be multiple attacks but on a smaller scale.