Al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula is a Sunni extremist group based in Yemen that has orchestrated numerous high-profile terrorist attacks. AQAP emerged in January 2009 following the unification of Yemeni and Saudi terrorist elements, signaling the group’s intent to serve as a hub for regional terrorism in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP was preceded by al-Qa‘ida in Yemen (AQY), comprised of several al-Qa‘ida veterans who escaped from a Sanaa prison. AQAP’s original leadership was composed of the group’s now-deceased amir Nasir al-Wahishi; now-deceased deputy amir Sa‘id al-Shahri; and Wahishi’s successor as amir, Qasim al-Rimi. Dual US-Yemeni citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi, who had a worldwide following as a radical ideologue and propagandist, was the most prominent member of AQAP; he was killed in an explosion in September 2011. Throughout 2015, AQAP has sustained rapid and cumulative losses to its leadership ranks, including the death of Nasir al-Wahishi. Shortly after Wahishi’s death, AQAP released a video naming the group’s long-time operational commander Qasim al-Rimi as Wahishi’s successor.
The group has targeted local, US, and Western interests in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as abroad. One of the most notable of these operations occurred when AQAP dispatched Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to detonate an explosive device aboard a Northwest Airlines flight on 25 December 2009—the first attack inside the United States by an al-Qa‘ida affiliate since 11 September 2001. That was followed by an attempt to send explosive-laden packages to the United States on 27 October 2010. In January 2015, two French nationals attacked the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s Paris office, an operation one of the attackers claimed Anwar al-Aulaqi funded. A week after the attack, AQAP released a video on Twitter claiming that the group chose the target and financed the operation. AQAP has also sought to expand its media presence by launching the English-language publication, Inspire magazine, in 2010.
AQAP has also undertaken a number of attacks targeting the Yemeni Government, including a complex attack in December 2013 against Yemen’s Ministry of Defense that killed at least 52 people; and in February 2014 the group freed over two dozen prisoners from Sanaa’s central prison. Since the Huthi rise to power in early 2015, AQAP elements have prioritized combating Huthi expansion and regularly engage in attacks and skirmishes with the growing Huthi presence. AQAP also has formed a stronghold in Mukalla, Hadramawt Governorate, where it has freed prisoners, robbed banks, and taken over government facilities.
AQAP was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization on 19 January 2010.