Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is an Islamist extremist organization based in Yemen and is al-Qa’ida’s most influential global affiliate.
Three separate AQAP plots to blow up airliners over the United States failed in 2009, 2010, and 2012. The chief architect of these plans, bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri, remains in Yemen. Asiri has trained other AQAP operatives to build new non-metallic explosives that can evade airport security detection.
Current AQAP leader, Qasim al-Rimi, continues to direct attacks against the Iranian-backed Shia Huthis and has acquired support from sympathetic Sunni tribes across Yemen.
Drone strikes in Yemen decreased overall last year, from approximately 125 in 2017 to 35 in 2018. According to US Central Command (USCENTCOM), “despite a decline in counterterrorism air strikes against AQAP, they continue to pose a significant threat.”
Threat to New Jersey: Low
AQAP has demonstrated the intent and capability to act outside its primary area of operations in Yemen and has attempted to strike the United States on three occasions since 2009. The group failed to release its English-language magazine, Inspire, in 2018, the first year without an issue since the publication’s inception in 2009.
USCENTCOM confirmed in January that a “precision strike” in the Marib region of Yemen killed Jamel al-Badawi, an al-Qa’ida veteran wanted for his role in the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 Americans on October 12, 2000. Badawi escaped from prison on two occasions and was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
AQAP continues to focus on local issues within Yemen, and drone strikes have nearly decimated much of the group’s command staff. AQAP has not successfully executed an attack in the West since its operation in January 2015 targeting the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
Despite efforts to remove extremist messaging online, lectures from deceased AQAP cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi continue to resonate with jihadists. Since 2011, Aulaqi has been named in over 20 terrorism cases in the United States.
In December, authorities arrested Damon Joseph of Ohio for plotting to attack a synagogue in Toledo. The attack on the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October and the lectures of Aulaqi played parts in his motivation.
In December, authorities arrested Tayyab Tahir Ismail of Florida for distributing materials online demonstrating how to build explosives. Ismail, who pleaded guilty in February, regularly quoted Aulaqi online and referred to himself as an “al-Qaeda soldier.” In August 2017, Ismail’s onetime roommate, James Medina, pleaded guilty to plotting to bomb a South Florida synagogue and Jewish school during Passover.
Aulaqi is cited with inspiring Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who killed three and wounded 264 at the Boston Marathon in April 2013, as well as Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who killed 14 and wounded 22 in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015.