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

FIFA Indictments Put Gold Cup Tournament Under Cloud

Experts say US indictments could lead to charges of other world soccer officials, and lead to major shakeup in sport's governance More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs