AQAP is a Sunni Muslim terrorist organization led by Saudi and Yemeni nationals who are determined to overthrow
their respective “apostate” governments and who target the United States for its history of support to the Saudi royal family. AQAP is based primarily in the remote southern provinces of Yemen that largely spurn control by Yemen’s central government. There, the group has concentrated its efforts at sowing an insurgency against the central government
in Sana’a. Generally described as one of the most dangerous Al Qaeda affiliates to U.S. interests, AQAP has repeatedly attempted to attack the United States and has been one of the first Al Qaeda offshoots to publish its propaganda in English in order to attract Americans and other Westerners to its cause. Since AQAP was formed through a merger of Saudi and Yemeni Al Qaeda-aligned terrorists in 2009, AQAP has targeted the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a and the Saudi royal family, and has made at least two unsuccessful attempts to bomb airlines over U.S. air space (Christmas Day 2009, Parcel bombs October 2010).
The leader of AQAP is a former secretary of Osama bin Laden’s named Nasir al Wuhayshi, who became the leader of AQAP’s Yemeni predecessor in 2007, a year after escaping from prison, along with 23 other wanted militants. Al Wuhayshi’s personal connection to Bin Laden reportedly enhanced his legitimacy among his followers. After Bin Laden was killed in
2011, Wuhayshi pledged AQAP’s allegiance to Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al Zawahiri. In 2013, Zawahiri reportedly ordered Wuhayshi to carry out large scale terrorist attacks against the United States. In response, Wuhayshi apparently vowed to carry out an attack that would “change the face of history,” leading the U.S. State Department to take immediate precautionary measures.These included issuing a worldwide travel alert and suspending diplomatic operations in 19
Muslim countries, including Yemen. In March 2014, AQAP released a video showing Wuhayshi addressing a large, open-air gathering of followers.
AQAP actively seeks to attack U.S. territory and American interests abroad. In the third edition of its online magazine (entitled Inspire), AQAP claims that its long-term strategy is to launch many small-scale attacks against the United States. The group also apparently seeks to assassinate members of the Saudi royal family, as was illustrated by a failed assassination attempt in August 2009 against former Assistant Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin
Abdelaziz Al Saud, the director of the kingdom’s counterterrorism campaign. Finally, AQAP also apparently seeks to build an anti-government insurgency in southern Yemen that would ultimately be capable of holding territory.
Areas of Operation
Although AQAP has a presence throughout Yemen, it is most active in the southern provinces that were formerly part of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (also known as South Yemen), and which united with their northern counterparts in 1990. Despite unification, political and economic power remains in the hands of northern leaders and tribes, and AQAP has benefitted from southern resentment directed against the government. In the spring of 2014, the Yemeni armed forces launched a major offensive against AQAP, and President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi remarked that “Army and security forces have to be prepared for cleansing operations in Abyan, Maarib, Shabwa and Bayda.”
Attacks against U.S. interests
AQAP has attempted on several occasions to bomb U.S. commercial aircraft and indoctrinate what the intelligence community refers to as “homegrown violent extremists” or HVEs. Its most high-profile attempted attack to date was the failed bomb attack against Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009. Before 2009, militants in Yemen targeted Western embassies in Sana’a, foreign oil companies and their facilities, and tourists. Two attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a in 2008 killed 17 people, including one U.S. citizen, and injured dozens of Yemenis. In October 2010, AQAP, through its U.S.-designated terrorist bombmaker, Ibrahim Hassan al Asiri, again attempted to attack the United States–in this case using explosives hidden inside parcel packages addressed to fictitious people in Chicago associated with Jewish synagogues.
Size, Financing, and Capabilities
According to the U.S. State Department, “AQAP’s funding primarily comes from robberies and kidnap for ransom operations and to a lesser degree from donations from like-minded supporters.”
Relationship with Al Qaeda and AQ Affiliates
The leader of AQAP has the closest ties to the original leadership of Al Qaeda as it existed in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban. In 2013, the current leader of Al Qaeda’s global network, Ayman al Zawahiri, reportedly promoted
Nasir al Wuhayshi to what U.S. officials have described as the new “general manager” of the AQ global terror network, making him the second most important man in the organization. Multiple news services revealed that U.S. intelligence services intercepted a phone call in late July 2013 between Zawahiri and Wuhayshi, in which (as mentioned above) the former urged the latter to carry out large scale terrorist attacks against the United States. AQAP operates both within the Arabian Peninsula and internationally. Some analysts also suggest that, with the encouragement of Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the group is expanding its ties with Al Shabaab in Somalia, though such ties, to the extent they exist, may be more material than operational; Yemeni and Somali officials claim that they are providing each other with arms and manpower to help counter both organizations. Many observers believe that for the time being, AQAP will refrain from formally switching it s allegiance from Al Qaeda to the Islamic State; however, AQAP propagandists have touted IS gains in Iraq and encouraged their followers to join the Islamic State in battle.
Source US Congressional Research Service 2014
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