Have we buried al-Qaida too quickly? Eliminated from the territory of its “close enemy”—the Saudi kingdom and its sanctuaries of Islam—and losing ground in Iraq despite autumn’s bloody attacks, the nebulous terrorist organization has been confined these past months to Pakistan’s tribal zones and the borders of Algeria, Niger and Mali, where subsidiary al-Qaida offshoot in the Islamic Maghreb is evolving.

However, it has shown up again on the soil of the “distant enemy,” the United States, through an attack that, despite its failure, evidences both al-Qaida's will and ability. The young Nigerian’s attempted attack on a plane bound for Detroit highlights another “subsidiary” al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQPA). This new branch was forged in the beginning of this year. It brings together Yemeni jihadists and Saudi combatants who are mercilessly chased on the other side of the border, but who take refuge in the tribal zones that Yemeni authorities do not control.

We can safely state that today, there are all the elements necessary to make “happy Arabia” a territory of choice for the nebulous terrorist. In fact, Yemen finds itself on a worrying arc of instability which runs from Africa to Asia, from Somalia to Pakistan. There, we find the components of Somali chaos and of Pakistani complexity: religious radicalism, a quasi-failed state, and powerful centripetal tribal forces. Added to this mix are specifically Yemeni ills: great poverty, disorderly population growth, armed rebellion in the North and a secessionist movement in the South.

It is not only today that the United States discovers the potential menace of al-Qaida in Yemen. They were struck locally in 2000, and again in 2008, in attacks against their buildings of war, the [USS] Cole, then against their embassy. Besides, in 2009 they began to supply military aid to a regime that had previously been accused of manipulating radical Islamism for its own gain, according to its short-sighted calculations. Washington would follow closely, assisting the Yemeni army in raids conducted in December against suspected AQPA camps. We can understand the Americans’ determination. But it is not without dangers: an engagement that is too massive in a theatre of operations as unstable and complex as Yemen could well create a new quagmire—which is exactly what al-Qaida seeks.