Al Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate is alive and well

Article Highlights

  • Despite having a CIA informant abort a bomb plot, AQAP is strong and ready to kill Americans

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  • The death of Osama bin Laden may have struck at the core of al Qaeda, but its Yemen-based franchise is alive and well

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  • Three years ago, AQAP was a network of a few hundred. Today, estimates range to over a thousand militants in Yemen

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Yesterday's revelation of a new al Qaeda terrorist plot is a reminder that the group's Yemen-based franchise, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is strong and ready to kill Americans.

Seized as it was being transported to the suicide bomber, the new underwear bomb was designed to elude U.S. airport scanners and was likely aimed at a U.S.-bound aircraft. Timed to commemorate the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death, the plot was well underway even as American officials denied there were any planned attacks.

The death of Osama bin Laden may have struck at the core of al Qaeda, but its Yemen-based franchise is alive and well. Even the killing of AQAP's American-born leader, Anwar al Awlaki, has failed to end the group's transnational operations. The bottom line is that the al Qaeda franchise is stronger than it was in 2009.

Last year, AQAP took advantage of the widespread unrest in Yemen to secure and expand its area of control. It launched a territorial offensive run through its insurgent arm, Ansar al Sharia, in March 2011. The result is a swath of territory in south Yemen connected to historical sanctuaries running up to the Saudi Arabian border that has vastly expanded the area in which AQAP members can travel. Recruiting efforts have paid off as well. Three years ago, AQAP consisted of a network of a few hundred individuals. Today, estimates range to over a thousand militants in Yemen.


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About the Author


  • Katherine Zimmerman is a senior analyst and the al Qaeda and Associated Movements Team Lead for the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project. Her work has focused on al Qaeda’s affiliates in the Gulf of Aden region and associated movements in western and northern Africa. She specializes in the Yemen-based group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia, al Shabaab. Katherine has testified in front of Congress and briefed Members and congressional staff, as well as members of the defense community. She has written analyses of U.S. national security interests related to the threat from the al Qaeda network for the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, CNN Global Public Square, and the Huffington Post, among others. Katherine graduated with distinction from Yale University with a B.A. in Political Science and Modern Middle East Studies.


    Follow Katherine Zimmerman on Twitter.

  • Phone: (202) 828-6023

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