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.
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