U.S. intelligence officials believe al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is now the most significant terrorist threat to the United States, and analysts say the Yemen-based organization is benefiting from the violence and turmoil in that country.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was formed in 2009 with a merger of branches of the terrorist group in Saudi Arabia and Yemen and almost immediately began focusing attacks on the United States.
In December of that year, the group said it was responsible for an attempted bombing on a commercial airline flight to Detroit on Christmas Day.
In October 2010, a bomb plot was discovered when two packages of explosives were found on cargo planes bound for the United States. The packages were sent from Yemen.
Analyst Katherine Zimmerman specializes in Yemen at the American Enterprise Institute. She says the most dangerous situation for the United States comes from what al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has gained from the current unrest.
“Counterterrorism forces have moved from al-Qaida strongholds in Yemen into the capital to protect regime interests, such as the presidential palace and other key infrastructure. What this has done has increased the operating space that al-Qaida has in Yemen," said Zimmerman.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace associate Christopher Boucek focuses on terrorism and stability issues in Yemen. He says al-Qaida individuals and cells in Yemen are planning attacks on the United States.
“Instability in Yemen is not something that is a far off scenario. It affects American domestic security. Instability and insecurity in Yemen is a domestic American security issue,” said Boucek.
Likelihood of attack
Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Edmund Hull also served as the acting coordinator for counterterrorism in the State Department and says al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is likely to launch another attack on the United States.
“And they have said that even in trying they succeed if they cause us to take yet more additional security burdens upon our shoulders. So they can win, even if they do not succeed 100 percent,” he said.
The terrorist group publishes an English-language magazine on the Internet that contains directions for making bombs and seeks to recruit local citizens to commit terrorist acts.
Analyst Zimmerman says the terrorist group seeks to recruit and train local citizens to commit terrorist acts. “Not only is it attempting to execute spectacular mass casualty attacks against the U.S. and American interests, but it is also trying to encourage would-be recruits to execute smaller scale attacks,” she said.
Christopher Boucek says the group is calling for many small attacks, which are less expensive and more difficult to detect. “So I think you see an organization that has an incredibly fast learning curve, is very opportunistic, increasingly lethal. I think the problem in Yemen looks smaller than it probably actually is,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on an unusual high-level visit to Yemen earlier this year, said the Obama administration has “rebalanced” America’s aid program so it is no longer tilted toward terrorism and security.
Clinton said nearly half of the $300 million program for this year is aimed at helping Yemen deal with declining oil resources and a severe water shortage.