Al Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP]
Ansar al-Shari’a (AAS)
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula thrived in Yemen for years. The United States calls AQAP the most active and dangerous group plotting against America, as reaffirmed by State Department Spokeswoman Jan Psaki. “The fact that they continue to pose a serious threat to the United States and its interests, we consider this to be one of the foremost national security challenges we face,” she remarked in August 2013.
AQAP has demonstrated the capability and intent to target western aviation interests. The group publicly claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in December 2009, the October 2010 attempted bombing of two U.S. cargo aircraft using explosives concealed in printer cartridges shipped from Yemen, and is suspected to have been behind a foiled aviation bomb plot in May 2012.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula rebranding itself to try to lose the negative "baggage" associated with the larger terror organization's identity, according to a senior Arab diplomat who says the Yemeni-based group is trying to attract more foreign fighters to its cause. AQAP was increasingly going by the name "Ansar al Sharia," which means Army of Islamic Law.
Al-Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula leader Abdulaziz Al-Muqrin issued calls for the Saudi royal family to be overthrown. Conquering Saudi Arabia would be the first step towards establishing a Caliphate that would liberate the third holy place [Jerusalem] and unite all the Muslims of the world. The nightmare scenario for the West in one in which Saudi oil production (10% of world output) is taken out by terrorist attacks or by regime change. The Saudi ruling family is stuck between two contradictory policies: appeasement of puritanical Islam and alliance with America.
Until 2003, the Saudi government played down evidence that Islamic radicals were posing a threat to security. That changed after a series of deadly attacks in early 2003. The six million expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia are vital to the smooth functioning of the world economy. They run the country's oil industry and other sectors.
Prior to the May 2003, Al Qaeda bombings, there were several incidents in Riyadh in which explosive devices were placed under vehicles driven by Westerners. These attacks are not believed to have been conducted by an organized terrorist group, but instead by an individual or small group of individuals targeting Westerners. In two incidents in 2002, the devices detonated killing British and German national drivers. In a third case, also in 2002, a device was placed under a car driven by a private American citizen. This device failed to explode.
On 12 May 2003, Al Qaeda conducted a major terrorist attack in Riyadh, simultaneously detonating three large vehicle bombs inside three western housing compounds. Nine private American citizens were killed. Fourteen American citizens were among the hundreds of others who were wounded. Following the bombings, Saudi security forces made a number of arrests of Al Qaeda members and supporters throughout the Kingdom. While these arrests made it more difficult for Al Qaeda to conduct large-scale attacks in the Kingdom, the organization still maintained a presence in the Kingdom and retained the ability to conduct further attacks.
The May 2003 suicide bombings in Riyadh led to the campaign of the government to suppress the Islamist radical opposition. By November 2003 Saudi Foreign Affairs Advisor Adel al-Jubeir said more than 600 suspects had been arrested during the past several months, and dozens of terrorist cells had been destroyed.
A truck-bomb attack on the Al-Muhayya residential compound in Riyadh on 08 November 2003 killed 17 people (among them five children). The attack demonstrated that foreigners of Arab origin, who comprise much of the managerial classes, are more vulnerable than American military installations. Abdulaziz al-Muqrin is believed to have organized the attack. Observers did not rule out the possibility the terrorists targeted the mostly-Arab housing compound by mistake, assuming it was inhabited by Westerners. Several years earlier, a US company had housed its American and European employees there.
The attack one of the few predicted by the American intelligence in advance. Washington had reported that there was "an immediate terrorist threat in Saudi Arabia" and that "the terrorists planning the attacks are moving into the operational phase." Saudi and US cooperation on intelligence provided indications of an imminent attack, but not a specific location.
Khaled Ali Ali Haj, al Qaeda's chief of operations in the Arabian peninsula, had been wanted by Saudi authorities since May 2003, when his name was published days before that month's triple suicide bombings in Riyadh. Haj, a Yemeni, was once a bodyguard of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and he had been on "missions" in Afghanistan, Europe and southeast Asia. Analysts described him as al Qaeda's chief of operations in the Arabian peninsula.
On 16 March 2004 Khaled Ali Ali Haj and suspected militant Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz bin Mohammad al-Muzainy were killed after authorities said they were stopped by security forces and opened fire. Khaled Ali Ali Haj was heading for an undisclosed mission when he was ambushed and killed by security forces in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Abdulaziz al-Muqrin [Abdulaziz Issa Abdul-Mohsin al-Moqrin] took over the Saudi operation after the previous leader was killed in a shootout with police in March 2004. Abd-al-Aziz al-Muqrin, defendant number one in the recently announced list of the 26 most wanted persons. Believed to be in his mid-30s, his nom de guerre is "Abu-Hajar." He trained with the Al-Qa'ida organization in Afghanistan during the period 1990-1994. Al-Muqrin transferred from Afghanistan to Algeria to fight on the side the Islamic Liberation Front (FIS) in the mid-1990s. He smuggled weapons from Spain to Algeria via Morocco. He then went to Bosnia-Herzegovina, working initially as a member of a training staff in a military camp. He was arrested and imprisoned in Somalia until he was deported to Saudi Arabia where he was imprisoned in 1999. A Saudi religious court sentenced him to four years in prison. He learned the Koran by heart, which prompted the Interior Ministry to commute his prison sentence by half.
He was released from prison in 2001, and left for Yemen and arrived in Afghanistan. According to his own account, he took part in the last of the fighting against US forces when they invaded in 2001. Then he returned to Saudi Arabia. An adviser to Saudi Arabia's ambassador to London called al-Muqrin the "toughest" in a series of perhaps a half-dozen leaders who had headed the Saudi network. Abdulaziz al-Muqrin was editor of al-Battar magazine, the al-Qaida training publication. The al-Battar sword -- the "sword of the prophets -- was taken by the prophet Muhammad as booty from the Banu Qaynaqa. The magazine's name commemorates "Al-Battar" , the alias of Sheikh Yousef Al-Ayyiri. This former an Al-Qa'ida leader in Saudi Arabia was Osama bin Laden's personal bodyguard. He was killed in 2003 in a clash with Saudi security forces.
On 14 April 2004, due to security concerns, the Department of State ordered the departure of family members and non-emergency employees of the US Embassy and Consulates in Saudi Arabia.
On 21 April 2004 a car bombing at the Directorate of Traffic in downtown Riyadh killed five people and wounded nearly 150 others.
On 28 April 2004 a statement attributed to an al-Qaida leader who is Saudi Arabia's most wanted man yesterday warned that the terrorist group intended to launch "fierce" attacks against Jews, Americans and western interests in the Middle East. The statement by Abdulaziz al-Muqrin was broadcast over the internet. He denied that al-Qaida was behind a suicide bombing in Riyadh that killed five, but applauded it as a punishment for the Saudi regime. The statement said: "The Jews, the Americans and crusaders in general will remain the targets of our coming attacks and this year, God willing, will be fiercer and harsher for them. And the apostate Saudi government will be incapable of protecting their interests or providing security for them."
The May 2004 terrorist attacks used new tactics in Al-Khobar and Yanbu attacks to directly target vital economic and government interests. These actions combined three tactical aims: undermining the power of the Saudi royal, scaring off Western workers, and attacking the world economy by driving up oil prices.
On 01 May 2004 militants in the Red Sea city of Yanbu shot and killed five Western energy workers. On May 1 beginning at about 0645 AM, a group of Arab males with automatic weapons and handguns attacked the offices of ABB Lummus Global, a contractor for Exxon/Mobil (Yanpet) in Yanbu. There were reports of an incident at the Yanbu International School at about 0745 AM with no damage reported. Staff and children had already been advised not to report to school that morning. There was also shooting reported near the Holiday Inn Hotel. The gunmen killed five Westerners, including two Americans, two Britons, and an Australian. All five worked for the energy company ABB-Lummus in the northwestern Saudi city of Yanbu. Three other company employees were wounded in the shooting. The Saudi forces were caught off guard by the attack at the Yanbu petrochemical complex. Saudi security forces reported that three of the terrorists were killed and a fourth wounded and taken into custody. Several Saudi security forces were killed and wounded in their fight with the terrorists. Afterwards, the US Government warned US citizens to defer travel to Saudi Arabia and said that private American citizens currently in Saudi Arabia are strongly urged to depart. The Embassy kept in very close touch with American citizens who are in Saudi Arabia.
On the morning of May 29, 2004, terrorist attacks were carried out against at least three Western targets in the city of Al Khobar. Foreign Nationals, including Westerners, and Saudi citizens were killed in the attacks. Terrorists held around 50 people hostage in the offices and residences of foreign oil company employees in Al-Khobar. The attack began at 7.30 in the morning, when four attackers in army uniform attacked the APICORP compound, site of the headquarters of the Arab Petroleum Investment Corporation as well as its housing facilities. The perpetrators seemed to spare Muslims but not without advising them towards their ill-guided version of piety. The hostage crisis, which lasted for almost 25 hours, came to an end on 30 May 2004 when Saudi commandos rescued fifty people. Twenty-two people were killed by the terrorists which included eight Indians. A website claiming to speak for Al-Qaeda declared that the Indians were killed in retaliation for the 'murder of our Muslim brothers in Kashmir.' The operation in Al Khobar succeeded in releasing many of the hostages, and the large number killed might have been hard to prevent, but the escape of three of the four terrorists was a substantial blow.
The Khobar storming increased the prospects of political instability in Saudi Arabia. Following the attack the US State Department urged the estimated 35,000 Americans living in the kingdom to leave the country.
On 02 June 2004 Saudi Arabia announced it was folding all of its private charities that send money overseas into a single commission in an effort to crack down on funding for terrorists. The government is setting up a new Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad to better control the flow of money overseas.
On 07 June 2004 an alleged al-Qaida statement, which appeared on an Islamic website Monday, warned of new attacks against "all compounds, bases and means of transportation," including airlines from the United States and other Western countries, which the statement said would be a direct target of coming operations. The statement asked Muslims in Saudi Arabia to stay away from Americans and other Westerners to avoid becoming victims of the promised attacks. "All compounds, bases and means of transportation, especially Western and American airline companies, will be a direct target for our coming operations in the near future." The message warned "security forces and guards of Crusader compounds and American bases" and "those who carry weapons on behalf of the crusaders and the covert agents of the Saudi government.... We urge them to repent and separate themselves from the heretics and their habits and pursuit of wealth and their speech and their ways,"
Al-Qaida terrorists in Saudi Arabia killed American hostage Paul Johnson on 18 June 2004. The 49-year old American, a specialist on Apache attack helicopters who worked for Lockheed Martin in Saudi Arabia, was kidnapped on 12 June 2004. Members of the terrorist group al-Qaida released a videotape of Mr. Johnson 16 June, saying they would kill him in 72-hours unless the Saudi government releases all militants in its prisons. In the video, Johnson is blindfolded and wearing an orange shirt. Later, a hooded militant dressed in black with a Kalashnikov assault rifle says that Johnson will be killed unless all militants held in Saudi Arabia are released within 72 hours. The deadline was set to expire Friday. Three photographs were shown on an Islamic Internet site depicting the beheading. "The infidel got his fair treatment," declared a statement posted in Arabic that accompanied the photographs. "Let him taste something from what Muslims tasted who were long reached by Apache helicopter fire and missiles."
The death of Johnson followed days of intensive search throughout the capital Riyadh for the kidnappers. Helicopters hovered over the skyline of Saudi capital late Friday as thousands of police and security officers conducted door-to-door searches. There were police checkpoints at dozens of intersections throughout the city. Fire department vehicles joined the search. Earlier in the day, in a tearful plea for his release, Mr. Johnson's wife, Noom Johnson, appeared on the Arabic language al Arabiya television station asking for help from the Saudi government. The decapitated body of Paul Johnson was found north of the Saudi capital Friday after pictures of his severed head and body were flashed on several Islamic web sites.
Saudi security forces stormed a central Riyadh neighborhood in search of the terrorists who beheaded American hostage Paul Johnson. The security forces said the alleged Al Qaeda leader in Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz al-Muqrin was killed during the assault.
On 06 December 2004 gunmen blasted their way into the US consulate in Jeddah, killing at least five non-American employees. Four members of the Saudi national guard who responded to the attack were also killed, as were three of the militants. According to a senior Saudi official in the capital Riyadh, no Americans were taken hostage in the attack against the US consulate in Jeddah. But the official said third-country nationals were briefly taken hostage before the consulate was secured. The official said four members of the Saudi security forces were killed, and several others were wounded during a gun battle that erupted after five attackers made their way inside the consulate compound. The attackers struck the consulate with explosive devices at two compound gates. Shortly afterward, the attackers opened fire with automatic weapons. A senior Saudi government official said it appeared the attackers used hand grenades in, what he called, a diversionary tactic, while others entered the compound firing their weapons.
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.
AQAP was formed in 2009 by Yemeni and Saudi terrorists under the leadership of Nasir al-Wahishi, who had headed a predecessor Al-Qaeda group in Yemen. It has conducted many high-profile terrorist attacks against the Yemeni government, U.S. and other foreign interests.
With the Christmas Day 2009 attempt by Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to detonate an IED onboard Northwest Flight 253, AQAP became the first al Qaeda affiliate to attempt an attack on the homeland. With this attack, AQAP broke from al Qaeda’s typical modus operandi in several ways. Abdulmutallab was a single operative traveling alone. Rather than constructing his device in the target country, he carried an IED on his person all the way from the flight he first boarded in Africa to the airspace over Detroit, and he evaded detection systems in various airports. Unlike Zazi, Abdulmutallab was not based in the United States, providing fewer chances for the FBI to look for clues of possible terrorist associations.
Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) on January 19, 2010. In January 2009, the leader of al-Qa’ida in Yemen (AQY), Nasir al-Wahishi, publicly announced that Yemeni and Saudi al-Qa’ida (AQ) operatives were working together under the banner of AQAP. This announcement signaled the rebirth of an AQ franchise that previously carried out attacks in Saudi Arabia. AQAP’s self-stated goals include establishing a caliphate in the Arabian Peninsula and the wider Middle East, as well as implementing Sharia law.
AQAP has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist acts against both internal and foreign targets since its inception in January 2009. Attempted attacks against foreign targets include a March 2009 suicide bombing against South Korean tourists in Yemen, the August 2009 attempt to assassinate Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayif, and the December 25, 2009 attempted attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan.
AQAP revealed its capacity to adapt and innovate by following with the October 2010 package-bomb plot. With this plot, AQAP obviated the need for a human operative by sending sophisticated IEDs concealed in printer cartridges inside packages aboard airfreight airlines. This tactic eliminated the potential for human error in the operation or detonation of the device. AQAP claims the total operation cost was only $4,200, a vastly smaller figure than the estimated $400,000 to $500,000 spent by al Qaeda to plan 9/11. In this “death by 1,000 cuts” approach, AQAP moved the West to spend many times that to reexamine and strengthen its security procedures. From AQAP’s perspective, this failed attempt was a success—not in producing mass casualties, but in achieving a high economic cost.
In addition to conducting its own attacks, AQAP also sought to radicalize and inspire others to conduct attacks. In July 2010, AQAP published the first edition of its English-language online magazine, Inspire, a glossy, sophisticated publication geared to a Western audience. In the five published editions of Inspire, AQAP has provided religious justification and technical guidance, including information on manufacturing explosives and training with an AK-47, to encourage HVEs to stage independent attacks.
AQAP was responsible for an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the British Ambassador in April 2010, and a failed attempt to target a British embassy vehicle with a rocket in October of that year. Also in October 2010, AQAP claimed responsibility for a foiled plot to send explosive-laden packages to the United States via cargo plane. The parcels were intercepted in the UK and in the United Arab Emirates.
In all facets of its operations, AQAP benefited from the expertise and insights provided by its American members to target an English-speaking audience. Anwar al-Aulaqi — a former U.S.-based imam and later a leader of AQAP — was a charismatic figure with many English-language sermons available online. Over a few years, Aulaqi had gone from a radicalizer to an individual who now plays an increasingly operational role in AQAP. He has recruited individuals to join the group, facilitated training at camps in Yemen, and prepared Abdulmutallab for his attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253. Samir Khan, an American jihadist blogger who traveled to Yemen in October 2009, helps oversee AQAP’s production of Inspire magazine. Together, Aulaqi and Khan drew on their understanding of the United States to craft a radicalizing message tailored to American Muslims.
In September 2011 the United States through a drone strike killed Anwar al-Awlaki, who was once considered the most dangerous man in the world. Aside from al-Awlaki, more than 35 senior leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have been killed by drone strikes. Yet the organization still continued to be a threat to the United States.
Despite the death of AQAP transnational operations chief and US person Anwar al-Aulaqi, the US judged AQAP remained the node most likely to attempt transnational attacks. His death probably reduced, at least temporarily, AQAP's ability to plan transnational attacks, but many of those responsible for implementing plots, including bombmakers, financiers, and facilitators, remain and could advance plots.
Without al-Awlaki, the English-speaking American who recruited people to exploit Islam and perform terrorist acts, it was thought al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's ability to strike the United States would be weakened. However, many in the intelligence community did not believe that al-Awlaki's death had a significant impact and the National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen stated that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has the ability to attack the United States with little or no warning.
AQAP took control of Zinjbar and other areas in Abyan, Lahj, and Shabwah governorates in 2011 and held these locations for approximately one year until a government offensive drove them out in June. This fighting displaced over 100,000 persons. Mines, unexploded ordnance, and IEDs planted by AQAP, which deliberately targeted the civilian population, slowed, or prevented their return to their homes. At the end of the year, the UNHCR had registered more than 85,000 IDPs who returned to their homes.
While Bin Ladin’s death in 2011 represented an important victory in U.S. counterterrorism efforts, it did not mean a reduced terrorism threat. The threat from al Qaeda affiliates, like AQAP and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), drastically changed and represented the most significant difference in the terrorist threat environment since 9/11. AQAP, which had attempted two homeland attacks within two years, now posed a serious a threat to the homeland. AQAP had proven itself an innovative and sophisticated enemy capable of striking beyond the Arabian Peninsula. While the tactics core al Qaeda developed and refined continue to threaten the United States, the inventive tactics created by AQAP pose an additional dangerous threat.
The security situation in Yemen improved in some respects in 2012, but remains unstable. Specifically, the new administration led by President Hadi has been more aggressive in countering al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) than the previous administration. In 2012, the Yemeni government carried out a two-month offensive to uproot AQAP from portions of Abyan Governorate, and Yemeni forces eventually regained control over the towns of Zinjibar and Jaar. However, approximately 3,000 land mines, planted by AQAP militants before they fled, killed 72 residents in the aftermath of AQAP’s departure. Other AQAP attacks in 2012 targeted the Yemeni military, including a February 2012 suicide car bombing that killed 26 Yemeni soldiers in Hadramawt Governorate. Of particular note, in June 2012, a Yemeni military offensive conducted in conjunction with tribal militias in southern Yemen removed AQAP from regions where it had seized control during the civil unrest in 2011.
The FTO designation for AQAP was amended on October 4, 2012, to include the alias Ansar al-Shari’a (AAS). AAS represents a rebranding effort designed to attract potential followers in areas under AQAP’s control. AQAP, operating under the alias AAS, carried out a May 2012 suicide bombing in Sanaa that killed 96 people. AQAP/AAS claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted Yemeni soldiers rehearsing for a parade to celebrate Yemen’s National Day, and said the bombing was intended to target the Yemeni military brass. Also in May 2012, press reported that AQAP allegedly plotted to detonate a bomb aboard a U.S.-bound airliner using an improvised explosive device. Though there was no imminent threat to U.S. jetliners, the device, which was acquired from another government, was similar to devices that AQAP had previously used in attempted terrorist attacks.
On October 4, 2012 the US Department of State amended the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and E.O. 13224 designations of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula to include the new alias, Ansar al-Shari’a (AAS). The Department of State previously designated AQAP as an FTO and under E.O. 13224 on January 19, 2010.
AAS – which is based in Yemen and is a separate entity from Ansar al-Shari’a in Libya – was established to attract potential followers to shari’a rule in areas under the control of AQAP. However, AAS is simply AQAP’s effort to rebrand itself, with the aim of manipulating people to join AQAP’s terrorist cause. AAS has publicly stated that the particular brand of shari’a they hope to implement is the same as that espoused by the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq, a militant umbrella group and designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that includes al-Qa’ida in Iraq.
AAS has taken responsibility for multiple attacks against Yemeni forces. One such attack, which took place in May 2012, killed more than 100 Yemeni soldiers in a suicide bombing during a parade. In March 2012, a series of attacks and armed assaults by AAS in southern Yemen killed 100 people, many of whom were Yemeni soldiers.
The consequences of adding the new alias for AQAP include a prohibition against knowingly providing material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with, Ansar al-Shari’a, and the freezing of all property and interest in property of the organization that are in the United States, or come within the United States, or the control of U.S. persons. The Department of State took these actions in consultation with the Departments of Justice and Treasury.
In addition, today the United Nations 1267/1989 Al-Qa’ida Sanctions Committee listed AAS. As a consequence the group now faces a worldwide assets freeze, a travel ban, and an arms embargo. The actions taken today against AAS support the U.S. effort to degrade the capabilities of its parent organization, AQAP. We are determined to eliminate AQAP’s ability to execute violent attacks and to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat their networks.
In the southern governorates of Abyan and Aden, terrorist activity by AQAP / Ansar al Sharia caused a large number of deaths and injuries during 2012. Government forces, supported by local tribal militias, carried out an offensive in the spring to drive AQAP militias from strongholds in Abyan. Hundreds of combatants on both sides died during the fighting, and reports indicated that innocent bystanders also were killed. Tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) were forced from Abyan to Lahj and Aden for safety and shelter. AQAP-controlled areas in Abyan Governorate were booby-trapped with mines and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and dozens of IDPs who returned to their homes after government forces regained control of former AQAP areas were killed when they entered these booby-trapped homes or family areas.
However, AQAP continued to conduct attacks against the Yemeni government and remains a threat to the United States, and according to a senior Yemeni MOD official, AQAP’s decision to change tactics from seizing and holding territory to conducting targeted assassinations of Yemeni government officials, including in Sana’a, constitutes a major security challenge. Yemen’s transitional period has weakened the central state’s security apparatus to a degree that is likely to make the battle for local support, rather than further degradation of state capacity, AQAP’s priority.
Although it is difficult to assess the number of AQAP’s members, as of 2012 the group was estimated to have close to one thousand members. AQAP’s funding primarily came from robberies and kidnap for ransom operations and to a lesser degree from donations from like-minded supporters.
In August 2013, the US State Department temporarily closed several embassies in response to a threat associated with AQAP. The State Department announced that it was closing 21 embassies in north Africa and the Middle East, amid fears Al Qaeda was planning a major terrorist attack. US media outlets reported that specific conversations between the two senior figures in Al Qaeda revealed one of the most serious plots against American and Western interests since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US. The New York Times reported that conversations between Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and the organisation's head in Yemen, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, had been intercepted.
Rewards are offered for Nasir al-Wahishi, AQAP’s top leader, responsible for approving AQAP targets, recruiting new members, allocating resources and directing attacks. In 2013, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri named him as his deputy. Shawki Ali Ahmed Al-Badani is an AQAP leader and operative. He played a key role planning a major attack that led the United States to close more than 20 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Africa in the summer of 2013. Jalal Bala’idi is an AQAP regional emir involved in 2013 with planning bomb attacks on various Western diplomatic facilities and personnel. Others being sought are Ibrahim al-Rubaysh, a senior AQAP Sharia official and advisor who provides the justification for the group’s attacks; Ibrahim al-Banna, the group’s chief of security; and c, who has helped raise funds and stockpile weapons.
An indictment was unsealed August 27, 2013 in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, charging a Nigerian citizen with providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and using high-powered firearms in furtherance of that crime. The United States is currently seeking the extradition of the defendant, Lawal Olaniyi Babafemi, also known as “Abdullah” and “Ayatollah Mustapha,” from Nigeria.
According to court documents, between approximately January 2010 and August 2011, the defendant traveled twice from Nigeria to Yemen to meet and train with leaders of AQAP, the Yemen-based branch of al Qaeda. Babafemi assisted in AQAP’s English-language media operations, which include the publication of the magazine “Inspire.” At the direction of the now-deceased senior AQAP commander Anwar al-Aulaqi, Babafemi was provided by AQAP leadership with the equivalent of almost $9,000 in cash to recruit other English-speakers from Nigeria to join that group. While in Yemen, Babafemi also received weapons training from AQAP.
The U.S. Department of Treasury on 18 Decembe 2013 imposed sanctions on two al-Qa'ida supporters based in Qatar and Yemen. Abd al-Rahman bin 'Umayr al-Nu'aymi (Nu'aymi) and `Abd al-Wahhab Muhammad `Abd al-Rahman al-Humayqani (Humayqani) were named as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. Nu'aymi was designated for providing financial support to al-Qa'ida, Asbat al-Ansar, al-Qa'ida in Iraq, and al-Shabaab, and Humayqani was designated for providing financial support to and acting on behalf of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Yemen's al-Qaida wing declaring plans in July 2014 to establish an Islamic emirate in the remote eastern Hadramout province. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) announcement also ordered men and women in the east to obey its strict interpretation of Islamic law. The terrorist group issued leaflets with the orders and its intent to create an Islamic state. The announcement comes weeks after the al-Qaida offshoot called the Islamic State and the Levant (ISIL) declared its own caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq.
The two armed suspects in the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were killed and their hostage freed during a police raid northeast of Paris on 09 January 2015. Two days prior, they killed a dozen people – 10 members of the magazine's staff and two policemen – in the bloodiest attack on French soil in half a century. The satirical magazine was known for poking fun of, among other things, all religions, including Islam. Charlie Hebdo had republished 12 editorial cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad which had originally appeard in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. It had also subsequently published on several other occasions other illustrations of Muhammad. One of the brothers had recently spent time in Yemen associating with al Qaeda in that country.
A separate raid in the capital killed another gunman holding multiple hostages at a kosher supermarket in the capital, but three hostages died in that operation. The gunman in the supermarket attack is believed to be the same man who shot and killed a policewoman south of Paris the previous day.
The Charlie Hebdo attack was officially claimed by AQAP in an online video released on 14 January 2015, declaring the attack an 'act of vengeance' for the Prophet Muhammad. In the video, Nasr al-Ansi, a top leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, said AQAP has planned and financed the Charlie Hebdo attack. The third attacker involved in separate attacks in the French capital was, according to the same al-Ansi, acting independently.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula announced its new leader June 16, 2015, shortly after an al-Qaida video appeared on line saying U.S. airstrikes killed AQAP's chief last week along with two other members. But analysts say the group has in the past proved resilient. An al-Qaida spokesman read a statement in a video saying Nasser al-Wuhayshi is dead and former Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula military leader Qasim al-Raymi is now in command.
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