Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

FormedMay 2003
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackMay 17, 2003: AQAP claimed responsibility for simultaneous suicide bombing attacks on three Western housing complexes in Riyadh (29 killed, over 200 wounded).[1]
Last AttackOctober 29, 2010: The group attempted to send explosive devices from Yemen to US destinations through cargo planes but their plot was foiled by Jabir al-Fayafi, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee. [2]
UpdatedAugust 1, 2012

Narrative Summary

The name Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was first used by Yusef al-Ayeri, the first commander of Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.[3] The group was inspired by Osama Bin Laden's fatwa in the mid ninetees urging Muslims to "expel the infidels out of the Arabian Peninsula."[4] AQAP rose to prominence after attacking Western housing complexes in Riyadh in 2003. Yet shortly after, from 2003-2006, Saudi forces led a campaign to purge Saudi Arabia of militants. While AQAP continued to conduct several attacks, the campaign to remove Al Qaeda from Saudi Arabia was largely successful and forced many AQAP members to flee to neighboring Yemen.[5] Under a weak central government in Yemen, AQAP was able regroup to gain new members and consolidate leadership. 

The reformation of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was announced on January 20, 2009 when the Al Qaeda offshoots in Saudi Arabia and Yemen merged. The group released a video in which Wuhayshi, AQAP's leader, and Raymi, AQAP's military commander sat with Said Ali al-Shihri, a Saudi national who in November 2007 was released from Guantanamo Bay. The video announced the merging of the two Al Qaeda groups, promoted full allegiance to Wuhayshi, and suggested that AQAP will include the Yemen Soldiers Brigade, an Al Qaida franchise in Yemen.[6] The merge promoted a coordination of attacks from Al Qaeda in the region and was thus acknowledged by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden's deputy.[7] Four days later the group released a 19-munite video "We Start from Here and We Will Meet at al-Aqsa," outlining their ideologies. Fortified, AQAP was able to launch attacks within and outside its borders. 

In conjunction with their ideology to create an Islamic caliphate in the Arabian Peninsula, in August 2009 AQAP attempted to assassinate Saudi Assistant Minister of Interior for Security Affairs Prince Mohammed bin Nayef through a suicide bombing. Furthermore, AQAP was accused of training Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up Detroit bound plane by injecting chemicals into a package of pentrite explosive in his underwear on Christmas Day 2009. This attack solidified fears that AQAP will become a global player rather than a local threat, and promulgated Obama to increase development aid to Yemen to $63 million.[8] Yet even with strong funding against the group, AQAP has remained highly active. 

While the Saudis were able to dislodge AQAP from their country, mirrored efforts to do such in Yemen have proved more difficult. In Yemen, AQAP have become deeply entrenched in Yemeni society, providing services and jobs in the face of a weak economy and a strongly decentralized government. Fears that Yemen is the new haven for Al Qaeda have been reinforced as in October 2010 AQAP hid bombs in packages shipped from Yemen to synagogues in Chicago.

Leadership

AQAP is led by Yemen-born Nasser al-Wuhayshi. Wuhayshi. Wuhayshi is considered an apprentice of Osama Bin Laden. He spent four years in Afghanistan as a personal secretary to Bin Laden but was separated from him in the Battle of Tora Bora in 2001.[9] Al-Wuhayshi was arrested by Iranian authorities, extradited to Yemen, and imprisoned. However, in 2006 he broke out from a maximum-security prison along with 22 others. Since his escape Wuhayshi worked to model Al Qaeda in the Peninsula after Bin Laden's organization in Afghanistan.[10]

  1. Yusef Salih Fahd al-Ayiri (Unknown to 2003): Former leader, killed by Saudi Police.[11]
  2. Khaled Ali Hajj (Unknown to 2004): Former leader, killed by Saudi troops.[12]
  3. Mohammed Saeed al-Umda (Unknown to April 24, 2012): Top commander tasked with providing logistical and financial support to the network. Killed April 24, 2012 by U.S. drone strike in the northeastern province of Mareb.[13]
  4. Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin (2004 to June 19, 2004): Fomer leader, killed by Saudi security forces.[14]
  5. Salih al-Awfi (June 20, 2004 to August 18, 2005): Former leader.[15]
  6. Nasser al-Wuhayshi, aka Abu Basir (2009 to Present): Current leader.[16]
  7. Qasim al-Raymi, aka Abu Hurayrah (2009 to Present): Military commander.[17]
  8. Said Ali al-Shihri (2009 to Present): Deputy emir, former Guantanamo Bay detainee.[18]
  9. Anwar al-Awlaki (2009 to Present): Chief ideologue.[19]
  10. Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri (2009 to Present): Bomb maker.[20]
  11. Nayif Mohammed Saeed al-Qhatani (2009 to April 2010): Senior leader and link man between AQAP Saudi and Yemeni branches. [21]

Ideology & Goals

AQAP has a global jihadist agenda. On January 24th AQAP released a 19-minute video, "We Start from Here and We Will Meet at al-Aqsa," outlining the merged group's ideologies and aims. The group's over-arching goals are to expel foreigners from the Arabian Peninsula and spread jihad to Israel to "liberate Muslim holy sites and brethren in Gaza."[22] He stated that AQAP condemns Arab leaders who have imposed blockades on Palestine and promised to save imprisoned jihadists in Saudi Arabia.[23] To prisoners in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, he stated, "I swear to god, we will not disappoint you or any of our brothers anywhere. Your letters reached us and we are aware of the torture you're enduring in the Saudi prisons."[24] In addition, AQAP incorporates itself into a larger Al Qaeda ideology.

AQAP in conjunction with Al Qaeda strives to create an Islamic caliphate by breaking down current political states. According to general Al Qaeda ideology, "Al Qaeda will mobilize four armies that will march from the periphery of the Muslim world to the heart of Palestine: one army from Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and the last form the Levant", designating AQAP to form the army that will be sent from Yemen.[25] As outlined by Osama Bin Laden, the enemy is America, while Saudi Arabia and Palestine are under "crusader Zionist occupation."[26] AQAP also takes a sectarian stance between Sunnis and Shiites.

AQAP works to marginalize Shiites, especially the Houthis in Northern Yemen. The group accuses Houthi insurgents of fighting to impose Shi'i religious law in Yemen, an endeavor which AQAP believes Iran is backing.[27] In the second issue the English-language magazine of AQAP, Inspire, published October 11, 2010, Deputy Commander Said Al-Shihri claimed that Shiites are polytheists and thus enemies of Islam.[28]

On May 16, 2010 the media division of AQAP, Al-Malahem Foundation, released a video on jihadist forums of audio for Abu Baseer al-Wuhayshi reinforcing his support for Anwar al-Awlaki, and threatened attacks on the US if Awlaki was harmed. Furthermore, on October 29, 2010 AQAP hid parcel bombs on cargo planes sent to a US address, but the plot was foiled. However, the plot was successful in inciting fear and gaining notoriety for the group. It bolstered AQAP to a more serious and urgent threat to US security, and is considered more virulent than even the core group of Al Qaeda in Pakistan.[29]

Size Estimates

Designated/Listed

In January 2010 the US listed AQAP as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.[35] AQAP's top leaders, Nasser al-Wuhayshi and Said al-Shihri were also designated under E.O. 13224. These designations prohibit the supply of material support and weapons to AQAP and include immigration restrictions that help stem the flow of finances to AQAP. They also give the Department of Justice the necessary jurisdiction to prosecute AQAP members.[36] 

AQAP was listed on the "Consolidated List" by the UN on January 19, 2010 under "Entities Associated with Al Qaeda." On the same day the UN listed Al Wahishi and Said Al-Shihri under "Individuals Associated with Al-Qaeda," subjecting the two AQAP leaders and the organization as a whole to asset freezes, travel bans, and an arms embargo.[37] On July 20, 2010 Anwar al-Awlaki was added to the UN 1267 Committee's Consolidated List of individuals and entities associated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban. The listing requires UN member states to freeze assets, ban travel, and implement arms embargo against Awlaki. Furthermore, Awlaki was placed under Executive Order 13224, which targets terrorists.[38]

Resources

Regarding human resources, AQAP is comprised of Yemenis, Saudis, and foreigners.[39] Roughly 56% of the group is Yemeni, 37% is Saudi, and 7% is foreigners. The group's fighters are veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but are also international recruits who attended religious schools in Yemen. This gives the group a more "international outlook" with connections abroad, as foreigners come from Pakistan, Sudan, German and at least one from Australia.[40] Before Saudi Arabia's crackdown, AQAP received considerable funding from Islamic charities. Though the Saudis clamped down on charities by tightening money transfer rules AQAP is also funded by cash donations from wealthy individuals, a process which is much harder to track.[41] This problem is compounded by the fact that AQAP can plot attacks that do not require large amounts of money. For example, the parcel bomb plot in October 2010 was suspected of costing less than $500 to engineer and deliver.[42]

External Influences

AQAP conducts operation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nahr al-Bared (Lebanon) and Palestine, in addition to the Arabian Peninsula.[43]

Targets & Tactics

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has resorted to conventional and nonconventional ways to attack its enemies and recruit more members. AQAP targets foreigners and security forces as part of their scheme to overthrow Saudi and Yemeni governments and establish an Islamic caliphate. More specifically, in Yemen, AQAP assassinates local officials to promote fear and dissuade dissenters from rising up against AQAP.[44] The group also attacks the United States, as seen with the Christmas day bomber who attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound flight. Furthermore has targeted Jews in synagogues in Chicago. Along with its primary enemy America, AQAP threatens to attack US allies. The group has made a point to attack British diplomats in Yemen, asserting that their attacks are justified because Britain is "the main ally of America in the war against Islam" and "gave the Jews control over the land of Palestine."[45] 

The group's tactics are virulent. AQAP makes use of IED's, kidnappings, shooting attacks, mail bombs, and blowing up planes. In addition, AQAP leaders claim to posses a nuclear weapon and vow to attack US and Western interests to force them to withdraw troops form the Arabian Peninsula.[46] Yet the group also uses non-violent methods to garner international support and release threats. 

AQAP releases publications from Inspire, an English- language publication from an Al Qaeda franchise's media arm (Salah al-Malahim is the Arabic language equivalent). Inspire is a tactic to expand Al Qaeda's network to include English-speaking Muslims globally. The magazine justifies campaigns of violence against the West, and encourages solo attacks by providing how-to manuals, bomb-making instructions, and contact information to enable recruits to connect to the Al Qaeda network.[47] For example, Magazine Issue 2, Fall 2010 provides a detailed description on how to make a pick up truck into a human "mowing machine" by attaching butcher blades or thick sheets of steal and driving into a crowd of people. The article suggests that this idea be implemented in countries like Israel, the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Denmark, Holland, and other enemy countries. Articles in Inspire support individual jihad with ideas that are "simple, there is not much involved in preparation. All what is needed is the willingness to give one's life for Allah."[48] The magazine is also produced to unleash threats. For example AQAP released an article called "Here We Are Osama" in Salah al-Malahim's 19th issue, threatening to encourage members to capture and kill Americans if Khalid Shaykh Muhammad and other "jihadist brothers" are harmed in US prisons.[49] AQAP further explained their tactics after the November 2010 failed parcel bomb. The group also has an Arabic language magazine called "Echo of the Epics." 

AQAP views the parcel bomb attack as a success, describing their new shift in tactics. With a decreased budget, AQAP is advocating for "a death by a thousand cuts" strategy to bring down the US.[50] The leadership states that it is not necessary to carry out large-scale 9/11 attacks. Instead, the group can conduct smaller operations, where less is at stake; yet if several attacks succeed, the cumulative effect will bring down US confidence in security and an impact on the economy.[51]

Political Activities

AQAP wants to overthrow Salah's regime in Yemen and establish an Islamic theocracy. However, AQAP refuses to engage politically and focuses its efforts on fighting. In a statement published in 2009, commander "Abu Osama" a member of the military council of Al Qaeda remarked, "There is nothing left between us and them (the Yemeni government) except for the sword."[52]

Major Attacks

  1. May 17, 2003: AQAP claimed responsibility for simultaneous suicide bombing attacks on three Western housing complexes in Riyadh. (29 killed, 200+ wounded).[53]
  2. November 8, 2003: AQAP was behind a truck bomb attack on the Al-Muhayya residential compound in Riyadh. (17 killed).[54]
  3. May 1, 2004: Militants shot Western workers at pterochemical complex in Yanbu, a north-western Red Sea city. (5 killed).[55]
  4. May 29, 2004: Militants carried out gun attacks on three sites in the Khobar province, causing an increase in fears of political instability and raising global oil prices. (20 killed).[56]
  5. June 2004: AQAP members abducted and beheaded Paul Johnson, a 49-year old American aerospace worker. (1 killed).[57]
  6. December 7, 2004: AQAP claimed responsibility online for a gun attack on the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (9 killed).[58]
  7. February 24, 2006: AQAP attempted to blow up the Abqaiq oil facility in Saudi Arabia. Saudi security forces were able to prevent the attack. (6 killed).[59]
  8. March 15, 2009: AQAP claimed responsibility for killing four South Korean tourists and wounded others through a suicide bombing in the city Shibam, southeast Yemen. (4 killed, 4 wounded).[60]
  9. March 18, 2009: AQAP claimed responsibility for a suicide bomber who targeted a south Korean delegation traveling to the airport in Sana'a to investigate the Shibam terrorist attack. The bomber walked in between the two vehicles but failed to cause harm to the delegates. (0 killed).[61]
  10. June 12, 2009: AQAP abducts nine foreigners (four German adults, three small German children, a British man and a South Korean woman) who were outside the city of Saada. Three were executed, the children were released, and the whereabouts of the others are unknown. (3 killed).[62]
  11. August 27, 2009: AQAP attempted to assassinate Saudi Assistant Minister of Interior for Security Affairs Prince Mohammed bin Nayef through a suicide bombing. Nayef was slightly wounded while only the bomber died in the blast. (1 killed, 1 wounded).[63]
  12. December 25, 2009: AQAP accused of training Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up Detroit-bound plane by injecting chemicals into a package of pentrite explosive in his underwear. (0 killed).[64]
  13. April 26, 2010: AQAP suicide bomber detonated in front of the convoy of the British Ambassador to Yemen, Timothy Torlot. (1 killed, 3 wounded).[65]
  14. October 2010: AQAP militants shot two rocket propelled grenades at Fiona Gibb's car, Britain's second highest ranking diplomat in Yemen. (3 wounded).[66]
  15. October 29, 2010: AQAP hid bombs in packages shipped from Yemen to synagogues in Chicago. The bombs were discovered aboard cargo planes in Dubai and London. (0 killed).[67]

Relationships with Other Groups

AQAP was strongly aligned with the broader Al Qaeda movement during the group's formation in 2003 until Yusef Salih Fahd al-Ayrir, the head of AQAP, was killed. Ayriri had maintained a close correspondence with Osama Bin Laden, and was seen as the link between Al Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL) and AQAP.[68] Furthermore, with the Saudi government conducting operations to diminish Al Qaeda in the country, AQAP diverted efforts to the war in Iraq to assist Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), led by Zarqawi. While after the death of Zarqawi in 2006, AQAP's relationship with AQI and AQSL became ambiguous, AQAP continued to send militants to Iraq and AQSL referenced AQAP activities in its statements.[69] 

AQAP's link to AQSL was reinvigorated in 2009 when Al Qaeda in Yemen merged with AQAP. On February 22, 2009 Al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a statement recognizing the consolidation. He recited a benediction entreating Allah to protect the newly formed group and make them a "thorn in the throats of the Crusaders and their agents like the House of Saud and Ali Abdullah Saleh, who sold their religion, honor and countries so Crusader America would be pleased with them."[70] However, while destroying Saleh's government has been a goal of AQAP, some accuse Saleh of striking a deal with AQAP. In 2009 Salah was accused of recruiting AQAP militants to quash the southern rebellion movement that is working to separate the South from the North, in return for releasing jihadist prisoners.[71] While AQAP affiliation with Saleh's regime is highly polemic, AQAP has an open relationship with Al Shabab. 

In April 2010, Somali government officials claimed that AQAP made contacts with Hizbul Islam and Al Shabab. Minister of the Treasury Abdirahman Omar Osman stated that 12 Al Qaeda officials entered Somalia from Yemen to bring monetary assistance to bolster Al-Shabab's recruitment.[72] The strength of the two group's relationship is unclear; however, in February 2010 AQAP leader Said al-Shihri announced Bab el-Mandab Strait as a strategic target due to its high flow of oil transit traffic. He stated that AQAP "is looking to control the strait with the help of Somali mujahideen to achieve global influence."[73] He thanked Al-Shabab for having In addition, US officials believe that AQAP has shared its chemical bomb-making capacities with other militant groups, such as Al-Shabab.[74]

Community Relationships

After being ousted from Saudi Arabia after 2006, AQAD has depended on a strong relationship with the community in Yemen in order to gain clout, a basin for recruitment, and protection. With high unemployment rates, half the population living in poverty, draining supplies of oil, and water, and a strong decentralized government, AQAP has actively worked to win favor of communities to weave the group into the local fabric of Yemeni society. Such efforts include marrying AQAP members into local tribes and providing social and financial assistance to the country's areas plagued by abject poverty. AQAP provides services for the community such as digging wells, paying for medical treatments for locals, even paying month allowances to poor widows.[75] In addition, AQAP pays higher for market price commodities such as goats.[76] In exchange for these services, local tribesmen have allowed AQAP to recruit their sons and provided shelter for AQAP, blending insurgents into Yemeni local populations. 

AQAP attempts to appeal to a broad audience by exploiting local frustrations to attract new members, "tempering its message of global jihad to fit local grievances- including the lack of economic benefits from Yemen's oil revenues."[77] The group focuses recruitment videos on corruption and the failing of the Yemeni government, rather than global jihad to broaden support.[78] For example, AQAP positions itself as a leader in opposition to the Saleh regime in an attempt to gain an alliance with Southern separatists, though many of whom are socialist and not religious.[79] 

This strong community alliance has complicated security and US efforts to dislodge AQAP because attacks on AQAP are considered as attack on Yemeni communities and tribes themselves. Furthermore, Yemeni citizens are so distrustful of the government that many believe the parcel shipment attack to the US was an attempt by the Yemeni government to garner political power and increase international support, rather than a terrorist attack by AQAP.[80] 

However, discrepancies do exist on how tightly AQAP is linked to the tribal fabric of Yemeni society. For example, the New York Times assigns the number of tribal leaders that have welcome Al Qaeda to be very low, and asserts that several tribes have banished Al Qaeda members from their areas.[81]


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