News / Middle East

Al-Qaida in Arabian Peninsula Comes Into Its Own

A suspicious package originating in Yemen containing a toner cartridge with wires and powder was found during routine screening of air cargo in the United Kingdom, prompting authorities to scour three planes and a truck in the United States. U.S. official
A suspicious package originating in Yemen containing a toner cartridge with wires and powder was found during routine screening of air cargo in the United Kingdom, prompting authorities to scour three planes and a truck in the United States. U.S. official

The U.S.-bound parcel bombs that were recently intercepted in Europe and the Middle East were sent from Yemen.  The working assumption of intelligence agencies is that the devices were manufactured and dispatched by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot or franchise of the original al-Qaida.

The ties between Osama bin Laden's original al-Qaida, now believed hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas, and the Yemen-based Al-Qaida in Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, are assumed to be strong.  AQAP's leader, Nasser al Wahayshi, was once an aide to bin Laden in Afghanistan, and the Saudi-born bin Laden has spoken of his family's roots in Yemen.  One of the original al-Qaida's early headline-creating successes was the suicide attack in 2000 on the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole while it was docked in the Yemeni port of Aden, which killed 17 American sailors.

But most analysts believe that AQAP conceives and carries out attacks on its own.  Former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats Glenn Carle says Osama bin Laden inspires, but does not order, his brethren in Yemen.

"Are they centrally controlled by Osama bin Laden, wherever he is? I think the answer is, no.  Are they inspired by him?  Clearly the answer is, yes.  Do they receive general operational guidance? Probably in some ways they do.  That's long been the case, but it generally amounts to, 'yes, brother, go with Allah and do this good job and you have my blessing.'  There might be some [logistical] support, generally not too much," Carle states.

Like some other al-Qaida branches or offshoots, AQAP originated in the ranks of mujahedin veterans of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  They operated out of both Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  But beginning in 2003 Saudi authorities cracked down on al-Qaida, and many of the Saudi al-Qaida fled across the southern border to Yemen, where civil unrest and large areas of ungoverned territory gave them a hospitable haven.  

In January 2009, the Saudi and Yemeni branches officially merged, under the name Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The Yemeni government started its own crackdown on the jihadist movement, in part because of U.S. urging, culminating in an open declaration of war on AQAP in July.

Former U.S. Homeland Security Intelligence Chief Charles Allen, a 47-year-veteran of the CIA, says AQAP is gathering strength.

"Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is now starting to really flourish," Allens said. "It's been regaining strength over the last two years.  When I was undersecretary [for intelligence] at Homeland Security we were concerned about a resurgence of Al-Qaida in Yemen, particularly because we saw Anwar al-Alawki really appealing to North Americans and to West Europeans through his messaging and preaching violent attacks against the West and against the United States."

Al-Alawki is an Yemeni-American, born in the U.S. state of New Mexico and educated at American universities.  He is considered by counterterrorism officials to be a senior recruiter and spiritual motivator for AQAP, especially to English-speaking jihadists.  He started an English-language jihadist magazine called Inspire, the first issue of which carried an article entitled Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.

Alleged Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hassan was in email contact with al-Alawki before the army officer opened fire at the base on Nov. 5 of last year, killing 13 people and wounding 30 others.  Intelligence officials have said al-Alawki also recruited and trained Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, who attempted to blow up an airliner over Detroit on December 25, 2009.  Although he has not been apprehended, Al-Awlaki is now on trial in absentia in Yemen on terrorism charges.

Philip Mudd, former deputy director of the FBI's National Security Branch, says the latest parcel bomb plot shows that AQAP is resilient and resourceful, able to change tactics as Western societies adapt to terrorist threats.

"The range of vulnerabilities in an open society is remarkable. So I think there is ingenuity," Mudd said. "But if you sat down with a cup of coffee and said, look at all these options we have, let's spend a month or two finding a couple that nobody has thought of, it doesn't take a rocket scientist in an open society to come up with ways that that society might be vulnerable."

AQAP also has at least one highly skilled bombmaker in its ranks, identified as Ibrahim al-Asiri.  Counterterrorism officials are focused on him as the most likely designer and maker of the parcel bombs hidden in computer printer toner cartridges, as well as the underwear bomb carried by Abdulmutallab last December 25.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs