History Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and US Policy
AQAP is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda Core and is a very active Al-Qaeda affiliate with bases primarily in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. AQAP has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. and is considered one of the most likely jihadist groups to directly attack the United States 5. They have attempted to the assault the U.S. homeland on three occasions including Northwest Airlines on Christmas 2009, shipping explosive packages to Jewish businesses in 2010, and a bomb plot in 2012. Deceased AQAP cleric Anwar al-Awlaki remains credited with motivating or inspiring the Fort Hood attack in 2009 and the Boston Bombing in 2013 5. Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, who were trained by AQAP, attacked the headquarters of the satirical Parisian newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, murdering 12 people and injured 11 as a result of the paper printing a drawing depicting Muhammad 4,5.
AQAP and ISIS are often competing for money and recruits. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS, proclaimed in 2014 that ISIS would expand their territory into Yemen. In 2015, ISIS attacked two mosques in Yemen, resulting in 142 deaths, something AQAP was swift to distance itself from 4. Some of their preferred methods of terrorist acts include assassinations, kidnapping, and the use of explosives 5. AQAP is considered a transnational terrorist organization as well as an insurgent group in Yemen.
Many of their attacks are carried out using car and suicide bombs as well as conventional means of fighting. They frequently use IEDs and claim to have experimented with explosives and developed compounds stronger than RDX or PETN 1. They also argue they may eventually use biological or chemical weapons. AQAP has gone as far as to claim they can hide and detonate explosives in a suicide attackers body cavity 1. They have also been recorded stealing military vehicles, kidnapping civilians/soldiers, using RPGs, and vehicle-born IEDs 3.
AQAP has been active since 2009, with an organizational structure secondary only to Al-Qaeda Core. It is organized by senior officials, commanders, and recruits much like an organized military. AQAP’s organization tends to be fluid due to the frequent deaths of members of the group. Located in Yemen they often attack sites in Saudi Arabia. A drone strike in 2015 killed emir Nasir al-Wuhayshi; Qasim al-Raymi, now holds the title of the emir and currently leads AQAP 2. The ultimate goal of AQAP is to reintroduce the Islamic caliphate and establish Sharia law in the Middle East. They obtain funding through criminal means, such as fake charities, robberies, and hostage-taking, as well as from Saudi Arabian donors.
Current status of AQAP
The United States AQAP counterterrorism policy has mainly focused on airstrikes and providing equipment to Yemeni security forces 5. There is some dissent among experts as to the U.S. role in fighting AQAP; whether to contain them in Yemen or get rid of them entirely. The ongoing Yemeni civil war has significantly hampered AQAP, limited their field of activity and bringing them into direct conflict with UAE and Huthi fighters.
1. (2015, June 17). AQAP confirms leader was killed in U.S. strike, names successor. Geo-Strategy Direct. p. 1.
2. AQAP and the Secrets of the Innovative Bomb. (2010). Stratfor Analysis, 17.
3. Carlino, L. (2013, November 14). AQAP Resilience Exposes the Weakness of Yemen's Security Apparatus. Terrorism Monitor. pp. 6-7.
4. Karmon, E. (2015). Islamic State and al-Qaeda Competing for Hearts & Minds. Perspectives On Terrorism, 9(2), 71-79.
5. Sharp, J. M. (2015). Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Congressional Research Service: Report, 8-18.