WASHINGTON – The Al Qaeda subsidiary in Yemen has been one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world for more than a decade. The group has invented explosives that are difficult to detect for years, including trying to cover up bombs in devices such as cell phones. It has tried to blow up American airliners at least three times, but to no avail.
But last week's announcement by the White House that the United States had killed group leader Qassim al-Rimi – confirmation of what the New York Times reported a few days earlier – was the last in a series of setbacks American and European counter-terrorism specialists say the group's ability to orchestrate or conduct operations against the West in recent years.
A flood of American drone strikes in Yemen in recent years has now killed two consecutive leaders of the group and Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the subsidiary's infamous bomb maker. Clashes with rival fighters from the Islamic State and the Houthi rebels in Yemen have also weakened the group, whose full name is Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And its once tremendous presence in the Jihadi news media has been far surpassed by the Islamic states.
"AQAP no longer appears to be the beast it once was," said Edmund Fitton-Brown, former British ambassador to Yemen, who is now one of the United Nations' leading counter-terrorists, in front of a Washington think tank.
While the Yemen branch is struck by these physical shocks, other Qaida members are making their way around the world. The Shabab, an East African terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, has intensified attacks in Somalia in recent years and increased fire through American missile attacks. The group attacked a Kenyan military base that housed US troops last month and killed three Americans.
American counter-terrorists have expressed increasing concern over a member of Qaeda in Syria, Hurras al-Din, who is allegedly planning to attack the West by exploiting the chaotic security situation in the northwest of the country and the protection that Russian air defense inadvertently offers the Syrian government Moscow allied forces.
imageRecognition…Saudi Arabia's Home Office, via Associated Press
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been persecuting President Trump since his first term in 2017, when the President approved an unfortunate robbery of Mr. Al-Rimi's hiding place in Yemen, in which a member of the Navy's elite SEAL team died 6 , Chief Petty Officer William Owens.
Even though the group has been weakened, intelligence and counter-terrorism officials warn that the organization remains dangerous.
The group claimed last week in an audio recording of Mr. al-Rimi – taken before his death – that he had instructed a Saudi military officer to fire at a U.S. military base in Florida in December that killed and injured three seafarers became eight people.
The group did not provide evidence that they had trained the armed man, Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, but provided a copy of his will and correspondence indicating that he was in contact with Al Qaeda. Experts said that these elements made the claim plausible.
At a press conference last month, the F.B.I. Deputy director David Bowdich said that while Lieutenant Alshamrani did not appear to be motivated by a particular terrorist group, his comments on social media included those of Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Yemeni-American clergyman and senior al-Qaeda leader in the Arab region, corresponded to Peninsula, which was killed in a drone attack in 2011.
"AQAP remains an important issue, in part because the group was so focused on aviation and the type of bomb-making expertise the group developed was likely to be limited to a select few," said Dr. Nicholas J. Rasmussen, former director of the National Counter Terrorism Center.
"This type of knowledge and expertise is of course shared and transferable – not only within AQAP, but also for other terrorist groups belonging to Al Qaeda and other like-minded terrorists," said Rasmussen, who is now the managing director of McCain Institute for International Leadership, a think tank.
Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, a website for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies that records military strikes against militant groups, found that AQAP was previously counted to recover only through resilience, patience, and commitment to its cause ,
Nevertheless, the subsidiary in Yemen has suffered several severe blows in recent years. AQAP's first Emir, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, who was believed to succeed Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda's overall leader, was killed in an American drone attack in 2015.
Four years later, Trump announced that bomb maker Al-Asiri was killed in a drone attack in Yemen in 2017. It was Al-Asiri who tried to bomb a bomb into Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's underpants to detonate the device on an American airliner that was approaching Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. The bomb hissed harmlessly and Mr. Abdulmutallab was arrested and detained.
Mr. al-Asiri also designed explosive devices that were disguised as printer cartridges and were to blow up freighters over the United States in 2010, and another device that was supposed to crash a passenger plane in 2012. Both plans were thwarted.
And then Mr Trump confirmed last week in a statement that Mr al-Rimi had been killed. The statement contained few details, but The Times reported that the C.I.A. carried out the airstrike using remote-controlled drones in late January after being followed for months.
The White House statement stated that the death of Mr. Al-Rimi not only affected Al Qaeda's activities in Yemen, but also the "global Al Qaeda movement" in every matter with Mr. Zawahri from his hiding place , most likely along the Pakistani-Afghan border.
According to analysts, several hardened jihadists will succeed Mr. Al-Rimi as the group's next leader.
A measure of the United States' success against AQAP is the number of American drone strikes in Yemen, which according to Roggio organization statistics fell from a high of 125 in 2017 to eight last year. The strikes led to fewer high-priority targets and drove many surviving leaders underground.
"AQAP has not used the turmoil in Yemen to recruit more members and build their following," said Colin P. Clarke, a senior fellow at the Soufan Center, a New York-based research organization.
"While the group has actually clashed with certain Sunni tribes, the past few years have focused more on survival and less on the growth and conspiracy of external attacks," said Clarke.
Without the high-level terrorist attacks against the West, for which the organization had become known and for which its brand was partially built, its image suffered and the group appeared to have become more insular, analysts said.
"It has been decimated by drone strikes, infiltrated by spies, fragmented by infighting, and hampered by an almost complete shutdown of its communications networks," said Elisabeth Kendall, a Yemen scientist at Oxford University who visited the country in October. “But a die-hard core will always remain. The more Yemen dissolves with the recent escalation of hostilities, the easier it will be for AQAP to survive and prosper again. "