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Connections of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

By Laurie Bennett

August 5, 2013 at 3:25pm

Nineteen U.S. embassies in the Middle East remain closed this week because of concerns about a terrorist threat.

The focus is on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based terrorist group that is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) named the organization during an interview with CNN last week, describing the intelligence as “the most specific I’ve seen” since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“There is a plot, the attacks are planned, but it’s not certain as to where,” he said.

Yemen map

Secretary of State John Kerry has had concerns about terrorists in Yemen for years. When he was chairman in 2010, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations issued a report called “Al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia: A Ticking Time Bomb.”

The committee found that a weak central government and rising poverty created fertile ground in Yemen for the growth of extremism.

“Despite setbacks, Al Qaeda is not on the run,” the report said. “The group has expanded its recruitment efforts to attract non-traditional followers and adapted its operations.

Possibly among these non-traditional followers were U.S. citizens who had moved or traveled to the country, potentially for training.

One American official described them as “blond-haired, blue eyed-types” who fit a profile of Americans whom Al Qaeda sought to recruit.

Another trend cited by the committee was the decentralization of Al-Qaeda activities since 2001. It is now a scattered global network, with nodes having varying degrees of independence.

The Muckety map above shows some of the connections of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including links to Osama bin Laden.

The group confirmed last month that its number two in command, Said Ali al-Shihri, was killed in an American drone strike. Shihri spent six years at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo.

Another leader, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in the mountains of Yemen in September 2011. At the time, President Obama called his death “another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates.”

Of special concern this week, the New York Times reports, is bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asir, whose brother was killed as he tried to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s deputy interior minister in 2009.

Update:
The New York Times reports that the Obama administration’s decision to close U.S. embassies was prompted by intercepted communications between Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahishi.

The Times quotes unnamed American officials as saying Wahishi was instructed to carry out an attack as early as last Sunday.

However, some experts question whether the conversations were intended to mislead.

Barbara Bodine, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, told NPR, “Al-Qaida is better than this. They understand how to operate underneath an awful lot of our detection capabilities.”

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