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What is Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and why has it emerged as "the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad," according to retired Gen. David Petraeus?

Interesting Article: Yemen sees resurgence of violence from militants, tribal fighters By Ariel Zirulnick / Boston  published Thursday, September 15, 2011

In his first prepared testimony for a joint House-Senate committee hearing, retired Gen. David Petraeus spoke about the future of global terrorism and Al Qaeda linked jihadists in Yemen that are of major concern for the United States. So what is AQAP?

Ariel Zirulnick recently mentioned that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is one of several militant groups stirring up trouble in Yemen. Retired Gen. Petraeus, on Tuesday, mentioned that AQAP is the most dangerous group operating out of Yemen so far. Yemen has recently seen clashes break out between militants and government forces in southern Yemen and between tribal fighters and government forces in the capital. Into that mix, add a Yemeni president nursing his wounds in Saudi Arabia after an assassination attempt and one can see what the United Nations was warning about in terms of Yemen descending into civil war. Within that structure lays a dangerous organization that is a direct offshoot of Al Qaeda. AQAP was formed in January 2009 from a merger of al Qaeda's Yemeni and Saudi branches. Anwar al-Awlaki (see picture on right) is believed to be the current regional commander of the group that decided to transform the group into a forward operating organization it is today. AQAP came into its own in October 2000 when they bombed the USS Cole in the southern port of Aden, Yemen. Its organization bolstered itself when in February 2006, 23 prisoners suspected of being al-Qaeda members escaped from a Yemeni high-security prison, reportedly with the aid of some Yemeni security forces. One of the prisoners, Nasir Abdel Karim al-Wuhayshi (also known as Naser al Wahishi alias Abu Basir), was announced as the leader of AQAP. He once served as Osama bin Laden's private secretary in Afghanistan (He was reportedly killed in southern Yemen on August 28th, 2011). Another prisoner, Qassim al-Raimi, became the AQAP military commander and the third-highest-ranking figure in the group (He was later confirmed dead on January 16, 2010). After the prison break, AQAP was involved in various kidnappings, bombings and murders in Riyadh, Qatar and the US. In fact, the Little Rock recruiting office shooting was AQAP's work, where Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, formerly known as Carlos Leon Bledsoe, (a Muslim convert who had spent time in Yemen), on June 1, 2009 opened fire with an assault rifle in a drive-by shooting on soldiers in front of a United States military recruiting office in Arkansas. He killed Private William Long, and wounded Private Quinton Ezeagwula and when caught said that he was affiliated with and had been sent by AQAP. In August 2009, an AQAP suicide bomber tried to kill Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who heads Saudi Arabia's anti-terrorism campaign and is a member of the Saudi royal family. AQAP's main external operations came to head when it said it was responsible for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it approached  Detroit on December 25, 2009. The 2010 cargo plane bomb plot was also associated with AQAP, when two explosive-laden packages bound for the United States via cargo planes were found, based on intelligence received from government intelligence agencies, in the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. The packages originated from Yemen, and were addressed to outdated addresses of two Jewish institutions in Chicago, Illinois, one of which was the Congregation Or Chadash, a LGBT synagogue. On November 5, 2010, AQAP took responsibility for the plot. November 2010 the group announced a strategy, called "Operation Hemorrhage", that it said was designed to capitalize on the "security phobia that is sweeping America." The program would call for a large number of inexpensive, small-scale attacks against U.S. interests with the intent of weakening the U.S. economy. The current leader is Anwar al-Awlaki (al-Awlaki), a dual citizen of the U.S. and Yemen, of Yemeni descent. He was recently affiliated with radicalizing Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan and praised the shooter for his actions. Awlaki's parents are from Yemen but his father, Nasser al-Aulaqi, was a Fulbright Scholar. The father earned a master's degree in agricultural economics at New Mexico State University in 1971, received a doctorate at the University of Nebraska, and worked at the University of Minnesota from 1975 to 1977. Al-Awlaki was supposedly born in the United States and returned to Yemen when he was 7. He returned to the US in 1991 to attend Colorado State University (1994), where he was President of the Muslim Student Association. He spent a summer of his college years training with the Afghan Mujahideen who fought the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. Al Awlaki also earned an M.A. in Education Leadership from San Diego State University. He worked on a Doctorate degree in Human Resource Development at George Washington University Graduate School of Education & Human Development from January to December 2001. During his time in the U.S. he served as Imam of the Denver Islamic Society from 1994–96. He was told to leave for two weeks once, after he was chastised by an elder for encouraging a student at the mosque to fight jihad. He then served as Imam of the Masjid Ar-Ribat al-Islami mosque at the edge of San Diego, California, from 1996–2000, where he had a following of 200–300 people. Al-Awlaki left the U.S. before the end of 2002, and moved to the U.K for several months where he gave a series of lectures in December 2002 and January 2003 at the London Masjid al-Tawhid mosque, developing a following among ultraconservative young Muslims. Al-Awlaki returned to Yemen in early 2004, and on August 31, 2006, al-Awlaki was one of a group of five people arrested on charges of kidnapping a Shi'a teenager for ransom, and involvement in an al-Qaeda plot to kidnap a U.S. military attaché. After 18 months in a Yemeni prison, al-Awlaki was released on December 12, 2007, and has so far avoided detection by the authorities. According to his father, al-Awlaki disappeared in approximately March 2009. By December 2009, al-Awlaki was on the Yemen government's most-wanted list. He was believed to be hiding in Yemen's rugged Shabwa or Mareb regions, which are part of the so-called "triangle of evil" (known as such because it attracts al-Qaeda militants seeking refuge among local tribes that are unhappy with Yemen's central government). In March 2010, a tape featuring al-Awlaki was released in which he urged Muslims residing in the U.S. to attack their country of residence. Al-Awlaki despite being banned from entering the United Kingdom in 2006, spoke on at least seven occasions at five different venues around Britain via video-link in 2007–09. He also gave video-link talks in England to an Islamic student society at the University of Westminster in September 2008, an arts center in East London in April 2009 (after the Tower Hamlets council gave its approval), worshipers at the Al Huda Mosque in Bradford, and a dinner of the Cageprisoners organization in September 2008 at the Wandsworth Civic Centre in South London. Al-Awlaki has been instrumental in radicalizing some of the most recent attacks in the US involving US citizens, i.e. the Fort Hood Shooter, the Christmas Day underwear bomber and the times square bomber, who all claimed that they were either inspired or had direct contact with him. With al-Awlaki, we have a much more dangerous entity, whereby his talent for recruiting, motivating, and becoming an operational planner and trainer for al-Qaeda and all of its franchises provide him enough of a standing to take AQAP to a new frontier in global terrorism.  

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