Country Report on Terrorism 2018 - Chapter 5 - 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; Sons of Abyan; Sons of Hadramawt; Sons of Hadramawt Committee; Civil Council of Hadramawt; and National Hadramawt Council.

Description: Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was designated as a FTO on January 19, 2010. In January 2009, the now-deceased leader of al-Qa’ida in Yemen, 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 selfstated goals are 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 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 by cargo planes. The parcels were intercepted in the United Kingdom and in the United Arab Emirates.

AQAP, operating under the alias Ansar al-Shari’a, carried out a May 2012 suicide bombing in Sana’a that killed 96 people. Also in May 2012, the media reported that AQAP allegedly planned to detonate a bomb aboard a U.S.-bound airliner using an IED.

In January 2015, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, killing 12 people. One of the brothers, who had traveled to Yemen in 2011 and met with now-deceased Anwar al-Aulaqi, claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of AQAP.

Also in 2015, AQAP took advantage of Yemen’s deteriorating political and economic environment after the Houthis took over – and pushed the Government of Yemen out of – the capitol, Sana’a. The United States and several other countries closed their embassies amid the violence. In April, AQAP stormed the city of Mukalla, seizing control of government buildings, releasing terrorists from prison, and stealing millions from the central bank. From 2015 into 2016, AQAP consolidated its control over Mukalla and expanded its reach through large portions of Yemen’s south.

In early 2016, AQAP swept through southern Yemen, gaining control of al-Hawta, Azzan, and Habban in Lahij Governorate, and Mahfad and Ahwar in Abyan Governorate. By February 2016, AQAP controlled most of Yemen’s southeastern coast. The group lost control of Mukalla in April, when forces backed by the Saudi-led Coalition retook the port city, but these territorial losses did not significantly degrade AQAP’s capabilities, although they deprived the group of an important source of income.

AQAP also attempted to carry out multiple attacks targeting Yemeni government and security forces. In July 2016, two car bombs targeting security checkpoints outside Mukalla killed at least nine Yemeni soldiers and wounded many others.

In early 2017, a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in a raid against AQAP leaders in Yemen. In June 2017, AQAP conducted an attack using a car bomb and guns at a Yemeni army camp, killing at least two soldiers. In 2018, AQAP senior leader, Khaled Batarfi, called on its supporters to “rise and attack” Americans “everywhere.”

Strength: AQAP fighters are estimated to be in the low thousands.

Location/Area of Operation: The group is based in Yemen.

Funding and External Aid: AQAP’s funding historically has come from theft, robberies, oil and gas revenue, kidnap-for-ransom operations, and donations from like-minded supporters. After seizing Mukallah in April 2015, the group had access to additional sources of revenue, including the millions it stole from the central bank. This access continued until Mukallah was retaken by Yemeni government forces in April 2016.