Country Report on Terrorism 2015 - Chapter 6 - Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula

aka al-Qa’ida in the South Arabian Peninsula; al-Qa’ida in Yemen; al-Qa’ida of Jihad Organization in the Arabian Peninsula; al-Qa’ida Organization in the Arabian Peninsula; Tanzim Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Jazirat al-Arab; AQAP; AQY; Ansar al-Shari’a

Description: Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on January 19, 2010. In January 2009, the now-deceased 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. The announcement signaled the rebirth of an AQ franchise that previously carried out attacks in Saudi Arabia. AQAP’s self-stated goals: to establish a caliphate and Sharia law in the Arabian Peninsula and the wider Middle East.

Activities: AQAP has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist acts against both internal and foreign targets since its inception in January 2009, including: 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. In October 2010, AQAP claimed responsibility for a foiled plot to send explosive-laden packages to the United States via cargo planes. The parcels were intercepted in the UK and in the United Arab Emirates.

AQAP, operating under the alias Ansar al-Shari’a (AAS), carried out a May 2012 suicide bombing in Sana’a that killed 96 people. Also in May 2012, press reported that AQAP allegedly planned to detonate a bomb aboard a U.S.-bound airliner using an IED. Although there was no imminent threat to U.S. jetliners, the device, acquired from another government, was similar to devices AQAP had used in previous attempted terrorist attacks.

In September 2014, AQAP launched a rocket attack against Yemeni security forces around the perimeter of the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a. The attack did not cause any casualties, but was followed two months later by an IED attack at the northern gate of the embassy that injured multiple embassy security guards. Also in November 2014, AQAP attempted to detonate explosives targeting the U.S. and British Ambassadors to Yemen. In December, AQAP claimed responsibility for an attack against the Iranian ambassador’s residence in Sana’a that killed one guard and two pedestrians.

In January 2015, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi carried out an attack in Paris, France, against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead. One of the brothers, who had traveled to Yemen in 2011 and met with now-deceased Anwar al-Aulaqi, claimed the attack on behalf of AQAP. AQAP later formally claimed responsibility.

Also in 2015, AQAP took advantage of Yemen’s deteriorating political and economic environment after the Yemeni government was overthrown by Houthi rebels in January. The United States and several other countries closed their embassies in February amid the violence. In April, AQAP stormed the city of Al Mukalla, seizing control of government buildings, releasing terrorists from prison, and stealing millions from the central bank. AQAP has since consolidated its control over Al Mukalla and has expanded its reach through large portions of Yemen’s south.

Strength: AQAP is estimated to have up to four thousand members.

Location/Area of Operation: Yemen

Funding and External Aid: AQAP’s funding has historically come from theft, robberies, and kidnap for ransom operations; and donations from like-minded supporters. Since seizing Al Mukallah, it has had access to additional sources of revenue, including the millions it stole from the central bank.