Country Report on Terrorism 2019 - Chapter 5 - Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

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; Ansar al-Sharia; Ansar al-Shariah, Ansar al Shariah, Partisans of Islamic Law, 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 an 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 stated goals include establishing a caliphate and implementing Sharia law in the Arabian Peninsula and the wider Middle East.

Activities:  AQAP has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist acts against both local and foreign targets since its inception in January 2009.  These include 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 via cargo planes.  The parcels were intercepted in the UK and 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.  The same month, 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 following the Houthi take over – and exile of the Government of Yemen – of the capitol, Sana’a.  In April 2015, AQAP stormed the city of Mukalla, seizing control of government buildings, releasing terrorists from prison, and stealing millions from the central bank.  Between 2015 and 2016, AQAP consolidated its control over Mukalla and expanded its reach throughout 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 as well as 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 2016, when forces backed by the Saudi-led Coalition retook the port city; however, these territorial losses did not significantly degrade AQAP’s capabilities, although they did deprive the group of an important source of income.

In early 2017, a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in a raid against AQAP leaders in Yemen.  In June 2017, AQAP attacked a Yemeni army camp, killing at least two soldiers.  In 2018, AQAP senior leader, Khaled Batarfi, called on the group’s supporters to “rise and attack” Americans “everywhere.”  In August 2019, AQAP gunmen killed 19 soldiers in an attack on an army base in southern Yemen.

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

Location/Area of Operation:  Yemen

Funding and External Aid:  AQAP’s funding has historically come from theft, robberies, oil and gas revenue, kidnap-for-ransom operations, and donations from likeminded supporters.