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.
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