Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al-Qaeda and the Battle for Arabia

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al-Qaeda and the Battle for Arabia

Article excerpt

The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al-Qaeda and the Battle For Arabia. By Gregory D. Johnsen. Oneworld, 368pp, Pounds 11.99. ISBN 9781851689408. Published 7 February 2013

The call came late in the morning, the sharp ringing of the telephone echoing off the heavy stones in a Sanaa house. On the other end of the line, an unfamiliar voice crackled through miles of static. 'Hisham has been martyred,' the man announced. 'Congratulations.' That was all the family would get, a handful of words from a stranger two thousand miles away. There was no body to bury and no final message to pass along. By the time the call came through from Pakistan, Hisham had been dead twelve days."

The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al-Qaeda and the Battle for Arabia traces the rise, fall and resurrection of al-Qaeda in Yemen over the past 30 years, detailing how a group that the US claimed to have defeated in 2002 has become one of the world's most dangerous threats. Engaging and highly readable, Gregory Johnsen's book provides detailed, often graphic insights into the complex dynamics and brutal actions of the global jihad movement that will hold the reader's attention to the last page.

But The Last Refuge is more than a great read: it tells, or seeks to tell, the true story of al-Qaeda at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. And Johnsen's story is convincing, carefully constructed from a variety of open-access media sources in English and Arabic as well al-Qaeda's own words. And it concludes on a chilling note taken from one of al-Qaeda's recent messages to the US: "The war between us will not end and the coming days are bringing something new."

Although Johnsen gives answers, however, he does not ask questions. What is crucially missing from his account is any kind of critical assessment of the sources on which the story is based. Because of the asymmetric nature of the conflict - tiny, ill-equipped cells versus the high-tech behemoths of the West - al-Qaeda's power largely depends on convincing the world of the magnitude of its threat. …

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