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]
UpdatedSeptember 10, 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 nineties 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, pledged allegiance to Wuhayshi, and suggested that AQAP would include the Yemen Soldiers Brigade, an Al Qaida franchise in Yemen.[6] The merger promoted coordination among Al Qaeda affiliates 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 would become a global player rather than a local threat, and prompted the U.S. to increase development aid to Yemen to $63 million.[8] Yet even with strong funding to combat the group, AQAP has remained highly active. 

While the Saudis were able to dislodge AQAP from their country, mirrored efforts to do the same in Yemen have proved more difficult. AQAP has 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 in some cases, as in October 2010 when 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. After 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): Ayiri was a former leader who was killed by Saudi Police.[11]
  2. Khaled Ali Hajj (Unknown to 2004): Hajj was a former leader who was killed by Saudi troops.[12]
  3. Mohammed Saeed al-Umda (Unknown to April 24, 2012): Umda was a top commander tasked with providing logistical and financial support to the network. He was 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): Muqruin was a former leader who was killed by Saudi security forces.[14]
  5. Salih al-Awfi (June 20, 2004 to August 18, 2005): Awfi was a former leader.[15]
  6. Nasser al-Wuhayshi, also known as Abu Basir (2009 to Present): Wuhayshi is a current leader.[16]
  7. Qasim al-Raymi, also known as Abu Hurayrah (2009 to Present): Raymi is the current military commander of AQAP.[17]
  8. Anwar al-Awlaki (2009 to Present): Awlaki is the group's chief ideologue.[18]
  9. Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri (2009 to Present): Asiri is known as the group's bomb maker.[19]
  10. Nayif Mohammed Saeed al-Qhatani (2009 to April 2010): Qhatani is a senior leader and acts as the link between AQAP Saudi and Yemeni branches. [20]
  11. Said Ali al-Shihri (2009 to September 10, 2012): Shihri, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, became AQAP's deputy emir and held that post until he was killed in a military operation in Yemen in September 2012. Shihri was responsible for determining targets, recruiting new members, planning attacks, and assisting in operational support for carrying out attacks.[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 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] AQAP condemns Arab leaders who have imposed blockades on Palestine and promised to save imprisoned jihadists in Saudi Arabia.[23]

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 from the Levant", designating AQAP to form the army that will be sent from Yemen.[24] As outlined by Osama Bin Laden, the enemy is America, while Saudi Arabia and Palestine are under "crusader Zionist occupation."[25] 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. [26] In the second issue the English-language magazine of AQAP, Inspire, published October 11, 2010, Deputy Commander Said Shihri claimed that Shiites are polytheists and thus enemies of Islam.[27]

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 U.S. if Awlaki was harmed. Furthermore, on October 29, 2010 AQAP hid parcel bombs on cargo planes sent to a U.S. 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.[28]

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.[34] 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 in an attempt to stop the flow of finances to AQAP. They also give the Department of Justice the necessary jurisdiction to prosecute AQAP members.[35] 

AQAP was added to the UN's "Consolidated List" on January 19, 2010 under "Entities Associated with Al Qaeda." On the same day the UN listed Wahishi and Said 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.[36] 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.[37]

Resources

AQAP is comprised of Yemenis, Saudis, and foreigners. [38] Roughly 56% of the group is Yemeni, 37% is Saudi, and 7% is foreign. 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, Germany and at least one from Australia.[39] 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.[40] 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.[41]

External Influences

AQAP conducts operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nahr al-Bared (Lebanon) and Palestine, in addition to the Arabian Peninsula.[42]

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. In Yemen, AQAP assassinates local officials to promote fear and dissuade dissenters from rising up against AQAP.[43] The group also attacks the United States, as seen with the Christmas day bomber who attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound flight, and has also targeted Jews in synagogues in Chicago. AQAP also threatens to attack U.S. 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."[44] 

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.[45]

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.[46] 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 U.S., 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."[47] 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 Shaikh Mohammad and other "jihadist brothers" are harmed in U.S. prisons.[48] 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 U.S. [49] 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 U.S. confidence in security and an impact on the economy.[50]

Political Activities

AQAP wants to overthrow Salah's regime in Yemen and establish an Islamic theocracy. However, AQAP refuses to engage politically. 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." [51]

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).[52]
  2. November 8, 2003: AQAP was behind a truck bomb attack on the Al-Muhayya residential compound in Riyadh. (17 killed).[53]
  3. May 1, 2004: Militants shot Western workers at petrochemical complex in Yanbu, a northwestern Red Sea city. (5 killed).[54]
  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).[55]
  5. June 2004: AQAP members abducted and beheaded Paul Johnson, a 49-year old American aerospace worker. (1 killed).[56]
  6. December 7, 2004: AQAP claimed responsibility online for a gun attack on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (9 killed).[57]
  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).[58]
  8. March 15, 2009: AQAP claimed responsibility for killing four South Korean tourists with a suicide bombing in the city Shibam, southeast Yemen. (4 killed, 4 wounded).[59]
  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. (No casualties).[60]
  10. June 12, 2009: AQAP abducted 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).[61]
  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).[62]
  12. December 25, 2009: 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. (No casualties).[63]
  13. April 26, 2010: An AQAP suicide bomber detonated in front of the convoy of the British Ambassador to Yemen, Timothy Torlot. (1 killed, 3 wounded).[64]
  14. October 2010: AQAP militants shot two rocket propelled grenades at the car carrying Fiona Gibb, Britain's second highest ranking diplomat in Yemen. (3 wounded).[65]
  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. (No casualties).[66]

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.[67] Furthermore, with the Saudi government conducting operations to weaken Al Qaeda in the country, AQAP diverted efforts to the war in Iraq to assist Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. After Zarqawi's death in 2006, AQAP's relationship with AQI and AQSL became harder to track, but AQAP reportedly continued to send militants to Iraq and AQSL referenced AQAP activities in its statements. [68] 

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."[69] However, while destroying Saleh's government has been a goal of AQAP, some accuse Saleh of striking a deal with AQAP. In 2009 Saleh was accused of recruiting AQAP militants to quash a southern rebellion movement in return for releasing jihadist prisoners.[70]

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 capabilities. [71] The strength of the two groups' 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 mujahedeen to achieve global influence." [72] In addition, US officials believe that AQAP has shared its chemical bomb-making capacities with other militant groups, including Al-Shabab. [73]

Community Relationships

After being ousted from Saudi Arabia after 2006, AQAP has depended on a strong relationship with the community in Yemen 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 monthly allowances to poor widows. [74] In addition, AQAP pays higher for market price commodities such as goats.[75] In exchange for these services, local tribesmen have allowed AQAP to recruit their sons and have 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. [76] The group focuses recruitment videos on corruption and the failing Yemeni government, rather than global jihad.[77] 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.[78] 

This strong community alliance has complicated security and U.S. 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 U.S. was an attempt by the Yemeni government to garner political power and increase international support, rather than a terrorist attack by AQAP.[79] 

However, there are varying reports on 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.[80]


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