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Map of AQAP operational area


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 that first appeared in July, followed by the establishment of AQAP’s Arabic-language al-Madad News Agency in 2011. Dual US-Yemeni citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi, who had a worldwide following as a radical ideologue and propagandist, was the most prominent member of AQAP; he was killed in an explosion in September 2011.

Nasir al-Wahishi photo
Nasir al-Wahishi

In August 2013, the US State Department temporarily closed several embassies in response to a threat associated with AQAP. Since then, AQAP has conducted a number of high-profile attacks inside Yemen targeting the Yemeni Government, including a complex, multistage attack in December 2013 against Yemen’s Ministry of Defense that killed at least 52 people, and in February 2014 the group freed over two dozen prisoners after attacking Sanaa’s central prison. Shortly thereafter the group released a video entitled “Drops of Rain,” which depicted a large gathering of AQAP members operating openly while their leader threatened the United States. In May 2014, the US Embassy in Sanaa closed for a month due to a heightened threat from the group.

AQAP’s predecessor, al-Qa‘ida in Yemen (AQY), came into existence after the escape of 23 al-Qa‘ida members from prison in Sanaa, in February 2006. Several escapees helped reestablish the group and later identified fellow escapee al-Wahishi as the group’s new amir.

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AQY in early 2008 dramatically 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 attacked the US Embassy in Sanaa using two vehicle bombs that detonated outside the compound, killing 19 people.

AQAP emerged in January 2009 following an announcement that Yemeni and Saudi terrorists were unifying under a common banner. 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 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.