Al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
Al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is a Sunni extremist group based in Yemen that has orchestrated numerous high-profile terrorist attacks. One of the most notable of these operations occurred when AQAP dispatched Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to detonate an explosive device aboard a Northwest Airlines flight on 25 December 2009—the first attack inside the United States by an al-Qa‘ida affiliate since 11 September 2001. That was followed by an attempted attack in which explosive-laden packages were sent to the United States on 27 October 2010. The year 2010 also saw the launch of Inspire magazine, an AQAP-branded, English-language publication, followed by the establishment of AQAP’s Arabic-language
al-Madad News Agency in 2011. Dual
AQAP emerged in January 2009 following an announcement that Yemeni and Saudi terrorists were unifying under a common banner, signaling the group’s intent to serve as a hub for regional terrorism in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The leadership of this new organization was composed of the group’s amir, Nasir al-Wahishi; now-deceased deputy amir Sa‘id al-Shahri; and military commander Qasim al-Rimi, all veteran extremist leaders. The group has targeted local, US, and Western interests in the Arabian Peninsula, but is now pursuing a global strategy. AQAP elements recently withdrew from their southern Yemen strongholds in June 2012, when Yemeni military forces under new President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi—with the support of local tribesmen—regained control of cities in Abyan and Shabwah that had served as AQAP strongholds since 2011.
AQAP’s predecessor, al-Qa‘ida in Yemen (AQY), came into existence after the escape of 23 al-Qa‘ida members from prison in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in February 2006. Several escapees helped reestablish the group and later identified fellow escapee al-Wahishi as the group’s new amir.
AQY operatives conducted near-simultaneous suicide attacks in September 2006 against oil facilities in Yemen, the first large-scale attack by the group. AQY later claimed responsibility for the attack and, in its first Internet statement in November 2006, vowed to conduct further operations. Ayman al-Zawahiri, at that time al-Qa‘ida’s second-in-command, in a statement in December 2006 congratulated AQY and encouraged additional attacks.
AQY in early 2008 increased its operational tempo, carrying out small-arms attacks on foreign tourists and a series of mortar attacks against the US and Italian Embassies in Sanaa, the presidential compound, and Yemeni military complexes. In September 2008 the group conducted its largest attack to date, targeting the US Embassy in Sanaa using two vehicle bombs that detonated outside the compound, killing 19 people, including six terrorists.