Al Qaida is considered as one of the most lethal and dangerous terror organization only second to the Islamic State. While Al Qaida appears to have gone off the grid in most of its operational areas, one branch is still very active and even designated as the most lethal branch of the global terror organization. Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the terror organization’s arm in Yemen and Saudi Arabia has been active for nearly two decades taking different names over the years.
AQAP was preceded by several Islamist outfits that mostly comprised Afghanistan veterans who had fought with the then leader of Al Qaida Central, Osama bin Laden and were aggrieved by the United States. The first notable attack by early Jihadists linked to Al Qaida was in Yemen in 1992 when a group called the Islamic Jihad Movement attacked a hotel in the southern city of Aden housing U.S. troops heading to Somalia. the attack was followed by several others o American soil both at home and abroad and as warranting the group to be designated as a terror outfit. However, AQAP was not fully formed and accepted as a branch of Al Qaida until after the Yemen revolution of 2011 when it merged with Saudi members from the organization under the leadership of, Nasir Abdel Karim al-Wuhayshi a personal aide of bin Laden as the official emir. Nasser al- Wuhayshi was later killed by a drone strike in June 2015 and was immediately succeeded by his deputy Qasim al-Raymi.
Like any other Islamist terror organization, AQAP’s ideology was based on the establishment of a territory that was governed by strict sharia laws as well as take revenge on the US and other Western countries for invasions and attacks in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP has been credited for pioneering and advocating for ‘Lone Wolf’ attacks through their online English language magazine that started in 2010. The magazine has featured articles on such topics as how to make a bomb in a kitchen and hit soft targets in the U.S., such as trains and restaurants. Al-Awlaki’s, one of the magazine’s authors, online sermons and writings remained an inspiration for radicals who carried out attacks in the U.S. and Europe.
For years, al-Qaida mostly operated by hiding in the mountains, working with tribes. But amid Yemen’s political chaos in 2011, it seized the southern cities imposing a heavy-handed rule under its extremist version of Islamic Shariah law. The radical laws included beheadings on a regular, floggings as well as other forms of cruel punishment that resulted in revolts from Houthi rebels which prompted a change in the approach to governance. The approach includes focusing on development and construction and setting up an administrative council of local figures.
Despite the fact that AQAP is still considered as the most dangerous branch of Al Qaeda, it has also been on the receiving end of countless airstrikes, drone strikes as well as kinetic attacks by the US and her NATO allies as well as Houthi rebels. A factor that has contributed to most of the militants withdrawing to remote and mountainous tribal villages or escape to Africa where the counterinsurgency operations aren’t as strong. AQAP has thrived for as long as it has and gaining notoriety because it takes advantage of corrupt leadership as well as the impoverished conditions in Yemen and the general Arabian Peninsula