A number of questions surround the shadowy events unfolding in Yemen over the
last couple of days, not least of which is this: Why would al-Qaida attack now?
One possible reason could be that the United States killed the second-in-command
of affiliate organization al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Abu Sufyan
al-Azdi, in a drone strike in Yemen last year.
He was reportedly wounded
in the October 2012 strike and died a few months afterward.
recently called for revenge, and the terrorist organization’s affiliates in Iraq
and Somalia are expressing their anger over his killing, according to Site, a
jihadi monitoring website.
There could also be a connection with the
recent appointment of a Yemeni AQAP leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, as general
manager of al-Qaida, effectively making him the No. 2 man in the
Could the new threat be based on orders from al-Qaida
leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who gave a speech that was posted on jihadi forums on
July 30, claiming that attacks on the US, including the recent Boston bombings,
were revenge for Muslims killed in US-led wars?
“I call on every Muslim in every
spot on Earth to seek with all that he can to stop the crimes of America and its
allies against the Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Mali and
everywhere....Every Muslim in every spot on Earth must work to defend
the blood of Muslims that is being shed by America and its allies, and their
sanctities that they are violating, and their villages and homes that they are
destroying, and their wealth that they are stealing,” said Zawahiri according to
the Site monitoring group.
Ely Karmon, senior researcher at the Institute
for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya’s
Institute for Policy and Strategy, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he
believes Zawahiri is “the weakest part of al-Qaida because most of its military
leaders have been killed and he is isolated in Pakistan
Consequently al-Qaida affiliates have become much stronger,
he said, adding that he was skeptical that Zawahiri had given the order for the
attack in an open telephone conversation that the United States intercepted. It
is much more likely that the latest warnings – as well as ongoing attacks by
al-Qaida affiliates in the region – are the initiative of local groups and not
based on orders from above, said Karmon.
Another opinion is that Zawahiri
is trying “to prove al-Qaida’s capability is still intact and [that] he retains
control over its franchises,” wrote Anna Boyd, a senior Middle East analyst at
IHS Country Risk.
However, Karmon said the recent conflict between the
al-Qaida affiliates in Iraq and Syria demonstrated that Zawahiri was not
responsible for everything that was happening, and he was often forced to
respond to events after the fact.
In that conflict, the Iraqi affiliate
tried to unite with the Syrian al-Nusra Front, but the latter rejected the move
and Zawahiri was forced to deal with the dispute.
According to Karmon,
AQAP is the strongest al-Qaida affiliate. He noted that the organization had
succeeded in conquering several cities in Yemen, taking advantage of internal
These include the Sunni-Shi’ite battle going on in the north
of the country against the Shi’ite Houthis, who are supported by Iran, as well
as the historical conflict between north and south Yemen. Another lingering
conflict resulted from the 2011 uprising against former president Ali Abdullah
Saleh, who was replaced by Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Also, Hadi visited US
President Barack Obama last week, which could be an added motivation for the
recent terrorist attack warnings.
Boyd believes that AQAP’s operational
network is weak and that it is unlikely to attack an embassy anywhere outside of
Yemen, “where its core capability is focused and where the risk is
Saudi intelligence has effectively prevented it from
reestablishing a base inside Saudi Arabia, she said.
“Its ability to
mount attacks beyond the Arabian Peninsula has depended on recruiting single
foreign operatives,” or “on plots that require no operatives traveling outside
Yemen,” she wrote. Boyd also mentioned the failed 2009 plane bombing by a
Nigerian student on a flight to Detroit, and the attempt to ship bombs on
courier flights to the US.
Karmon finds it strange that the US decided to
shut down embassies – a move that is essentially a “prize to terrorists,” he
said. This decision seems to be an overreaction and might have been influenced
by the fatal attack against the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last
Another interesting point, said Karmon, is that it remains unclear
why the US leaked so much information regarding the terrorist plans and the way
in which they were uncovered. Publishing the material could serve as a
deterrent, letting the terrorists think the US was aware of their plans, but it
could be counterproductive, he asserted, as the enemy could also use this
Each al-Qaida affiliate is trying to enhance its position
without any over-arching coordination, Karmon concluded.
means that it will be much harder for the US and other intelligence agencies to
uncover plots that are often not directed from above.