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.
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