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 Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

STATEMENT OF REASONS FOR AL-QA'IDA IN THE ARABIAN PENINSULA

Also known as: Al-Qa'ida in Yemen; Ansar al-Sharia; AQAP; AQY; Sons of Hadramawt; Supporters of Sharia

This statement is based on publicly available information about al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). To the Australian Government's knowledge, this information is accurate, reliable and has been corroborated by classified information.

Basis for listing a terrorist organisation

Division 102 of the Criminal Code 1995 provides that for an organisation to be listed as a terrorist organisation, the Attorney-General must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation:

  1. is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act; or
  2. advocates the doing of a terrorist act.

For the purposes of listing a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code, the doing of a terrorist act includes the doing of a specific terrorist act, the doing of more than one terrorist act and the doing of a terrorist act, even if a terrorist act does not occur.

Background to this listing

The Australian Government first proscribed AQAP as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code in 2010 and relisted AQAP in 2013.

Terrorist activity of the organisation

Objectives

AQAP is one of al-Qa'ida's most capable and active franchises. It subscribes to al-Qa'ida's Sunni Islamic extremist ideology, which promotes violence and is strongly anti-Western. On 20 December 2015, AQAP released a video in which its emir, Qasim al-Rimi, gave a nearly 20-minute lecture on jihad and the importance of fighting America. He claimed the US was the primary obstacle to the group's objective to build a truly Islamic state.

AQAP remains loyal to al-Qa'ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and—though it seeks the creation of a pan-Islamic caliphate governed by Sharia law—remains broadly opposed to Islamic State's self-declared caliphate. Consistent with al-Qai'da's primary goal, AQAP aspires to establish an Islamic Caliphate by removing 'un-Islamic' or 'apostate' governments and influences from Muslim-majority countries through the use of violence. AQAP specifically seeks to establish a caliphate and implement Sharia law in Yemen, and from there aspires to spread this system throughout the Arabian Peninsula.

AQAP has undertaken the following activities to achieve its objectives:

Directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering  the doing of terrorist acts

AQAP conducts terrorist attacks including bombings, kidnappings and assassinations against Yemeni and foreign government interests to destabilise the state and has declared Yemen's Shia Huthi minority 'heretics'. AQAP capitalised on the Huthi's uprising in September 2014, and the corresponding deteriorating security environment, by expanding its insurgency—taking control of the port city of Mukalla in April 2015. AQAP had gained control of significant territory in Yemen's south and east until a UAE-led military coalition offensive retook Mukalla in late April 2016. The group continues to undertake attacks in several provinces.

Attacks that AQAP has claimed responsibility for since the group was re-listed in 2013 include:

  • 11 May 2016: AQAP claimed responsibility for a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attack in northern Hadramawt province in Yemen that wounded General Abdul-Rahman al-Halili, commander of Yemen's First Military Region, and killed at least eight Yemeni soldiers and civilians.
  • 1 May 2016: AQAP claimed responsibility for an attack against General Aydarus al-Zubaydi, Governor of the city of Aden in Yemen, and Shelal Ali Shayyeh, security director for the city of Aden, that killed six police officers and injured several others.
  • 23 April 2016: AQAP claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that targeted military forces in Abyan province in Yemen, killing and wounding dozens of people.
  • 2 April 2015: AQAP attacked government and security facilities in the southern port city Mukalla, Hadramawt province in Yemen, and established control of the area. Further, the group freed about 300 prisoners from the local jail, including AQAP's former emir of Abyan province, Khalid al-Batarfi.
  • 3 March 2015: Saudi Arabian diplomat Abdullah al-Khalidi was released after being kidnapped and held captive by AQAP for three years. Al-Khalidi appeared as a hostage in AQAP videos pleading to the Saudi Government to secure his release.
  • 27 September 2014: AQAP claimed responsibility for launching a rocket attack against Yemeni security forces near the US embassy in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen.

AQAP directly and indirectly prepares and plans terrorist attacks and kidnappings against Yemeni and foreign—including Western—government interests inside Yemen. Examples of AQAP's attack planning since its relisting in 2013 include:

  • 3 December 2014: AQAP claimed responsibility for an attempt to assassinate the Iranian Ambassador by detonating a VBIED at his residence in Sana'a, Yemen.
  • 24 April 2014: AQAP gunmen attempted to kidnap two US embassy staff near a barbershop often visited by Westerners in Sana'a, Yemen. One of the gunmen was killed during the attempt.

In addition, a number of significant disrupted attacks plots have been reliably attributed to AQAP including:

  • 27 November 2014: AQAP claimed responsibility for an attempt to assassinate the US Ambassador in Sana'a, Yemen—two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were disarmed before they could be detonated.
  • 8 May 2012: US officials thwarted AQAP plans to detonate a non-metallic IED on board an unspecified US-bound aircraft.
  • 29 October 2010: UAE and UK officials discovered IEDs concealed in printer cartridges in air cargo destined for the US. AQAP claimed responsibility for the attempted attack publishing details in a special edition of the group's English-language 'Inspire' magazine in November 2010.
  • 25 December 2009: Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed in his attempt to detonate an IED on board Northwest Airlines flight 253 on route from Amsterdam to Detroit.
    On 28 December 2009, AQAP claimed responsibility for the attempted attack on a jihadist internet forum.

Advocating the doing of terrorist acts

AQAP leaders have, directly or indirectly, publicly advocated terrorist attacks in order to further the group's objectives. Public statements by AQAP since its re-listing in 2013 include:

  • 10 January 2016: AQAP leader and explosives expert Ibrahim al-Asiri issued his first public statement in response to Saudi Arabia's January 2016 execution of 47 prisoners, many of whom were affiliated with AQAP. His speech, disseminated by AQAP's official online media outlet 'al-Malahim', praised those executed as sheiks and mujahideen who had died an honourable death. Al-Asiri vaguely threatened Saudi Arabia by promising that AQAP are returning to 'the Peninsula of Muhammed' to 'liberate the land from the stain of the Crusaders'. He also vaguely threatened to continue targeting US interests 'as long as there is blood flowing in our veins'.
  • 8 December 2015: AQAP released a video titled 'Guardians of Sharia' that featured veteran leaders discussing at length their time waging jihad. Convicted terrorist and AQAP commander Ibrahim al-Qosi stated that the 'war against America' continues through 'individual jihad', which AQAP promotes through its policy of encouraging attacks by individuals and small-cell attacks worldwide.
  • 4 August 2015: AQAP's Khalid al-Batarfi released a video praising lone-actor attacks, condemning the US, France and other 'disbeliever' nations, and encouraging lone-wolf attacks in these nations. AQAP's media outlet al-Malahim also produced this video.
  • 7 January 2015: two brothers attacked the Paris headquarters of the 'Charlie Hebdo' magazine, killing 12 people and injuring 11 others. The attackers were inspired by AQAP ideology, with one brother confirmed to have met with now-deceased AQAP operational Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011 at an AQAP training camp in Yemen. AQAP subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack.

In July 2010, AQAP launched its online English-language magazine 'Inspire', which aims to encourage individuals, especially in Western countries, to undertake acts of terrorism by providing practical guidance and ideological justification for attacks in their own countries. Examples of advocacy related to editions of 'Inspire' released since the group was re-listed in 2013 include:

  • 14 May 2016: AQAP released 'Inspire 15', which includes a section called 'Open Source Jihad' (OSJ) that instructs readers on how to professionalise assassinations, advocates murdering people in their homes, and provides guidance on the construction of three different types of IEDs.
  • 2 December 2015: Syed Rizwan Farook, the male shooter in the San Bernardino, US, terrorist attack that killed 14 people and injured 20 others, was allegedly influenced by AQAP's 'Inspire' magazine and the teachings of AQAP operational planner and ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2011.
  • 9 September 2015: AQAP released 'Inspire 14', which in the OSJ section provides instructions for the construction of an improvised timed hand grenade and advocates the use of assassination tactics in terrorist attacks.

Details of the organisation

AQAP is a Sunni extremist group located in Yemen.  The group is an officially recognised affiliate of al-Qa'ida that adheres to al-Qa'ida's global jihadist ideology and follows an extreme interpretation of Islam which is anti-Western. Although the group currently focuses on Yemeni targets, AQAP conducted attacks in Saudi Arabia during the mid-2000s, and has attempted to conduct attacks within the US and against US interests around the world.

AQAP was formed in 2009 when the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni branches of al-Qa'ida merged after Riyadh's counterterrorism efforts had driven al-Qa'ida members south into Yemen.  It was originally founded as al-Qa'ida Yemen, in February 2006, after the escape of 23 detained Islamic extremists from a high-security government correctional facility in Sana'a, Yemen. In a January 2009 statement, al-Qa'ida Yemen announced a change of name to AQAP, which was the name of al-Qa'ida Saudi Arabia before it was dismantled by Saudi authorities in 2006.

To increase its community appeal and promote itself as the defender of Sharia law, AQAP refers to itself using names such as 'Ansar al-Sharia' (Supporters of Sharia) and 'Sons of Hadramawt'. On 4 March 2016, AQAP held a large rally in its Mukalla stronghold in Hadramawt province, Yemen, to proselytise and recruit new members.

Leadership

Since June 2015, AQAP has been led by Qasim al-Rimi, the group's former operational commander. Al-Rimi replaced Nasir al-Wuhayshi after he was killed by a US drone strike. AQAP's Khalid al-Batarfi confirmed al-Wuhayshi's death and al-Rimi's appointment in a 16 June 2015 video statement. Al-Rimi is a veteran jihadist who joined al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan prior to the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US.

AQAP's bomb-making is led by Ibrahim al-Asiri who is the group's explosives expert. Al-Siri has reportedly been attempting to build non-metallic bombs that can defeat aviation security screening. He is also training the next generation of AQAP's bomb-makers.

Membership

Despite losing several senior leaders in 2015 due to US drone strikes, AQAP has been able to increase its recruitment and expand its territory and safe-haven in several provinces throughout Yemen. Estimates of AQAP's strength vary from several hundred to several thousand members. The estimation of AQAP membership is complicated by the tribal nature of Yemeni society and the November 2014 emergence of an Islamic State affiliate in Yemen—some Sunni jihadist fighters are likely to have multiple allegiances, or pragmatically move between groups.

Recruitment and funding

AQAP targets recruits from a variety of sources including local Yemeni tribes sympathetic to their jihadist cause, and Sunni extremists from other Middle Eastern or South Asian countries. The group is comprised mostly of Yemenis and Saudis, but the group also recruits internationally. Recently improved traditional and social media campaigns have probably helped AQAP's recruitment efforts. For example, AQAP publishes a bimonthly magazine tailored to Yemeni audiences called 'Sada al-Malahim' (The Echo of Battles), and also produces English-language propaganda, including 'Inspire' magazine and audio-visual messages through its online media outlet al-Malahim.

AQAP is self-funded and collects revenue from numerous sources including donors in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other countries; donations collected in mosques; ransom payments for kidnapped hostages; and criminal activities such as robberies and drug smuggling. After taking control of the port city of Mukalla, Hadramawt province in Yemen in April 2015, AQAP reportedly earned millions through stolen Yemeni state savings and customs revenues.

Links to other terrorist organisations

AQAP is a recognised affiliate of al-Qa'ida. AQAP has also developed some links with al-Qa'ida-affiliated terrorist group al-Shabaab, which operates in Somalia.

Links to Australia

There are no corroborated links between AQAP and Australian individuals or interests since the group was re-listed in 2013.

  • 19 November 2013: two Australians (one with dual New Zealand citizenship) who had featured in an AQAP video were killed by a US drone strike targeting AQAP operatives in Hadramawt province, Yemen. Australian media began reporting this event in April 2014, and AQAP confirmed the deaths of the two Australians in a mid-April 2016 video.

Threats to Australian interests

AQAP remains committed to conducting and encouraging others to undertake terrorist attacks against Western targets, which includes Australian interests. There are no known AQAP attacks that have killed or injured Australian citizens. Attacks against Western interests or demonstrated AQAP support for Western attacks since the group was re-listed in 2013 include:

  • 23 June 2016: AQAP published an Arabic and English four-page document on Telegram pledging its support for the Orlando nightclub shooting and all Muslims who attack America on its soil, regardless of an individual's jihadist group affiliation. AQAP further stated 'we call upon every single Muslim in Western countries or in other countries who are able to travel to the West to follow upon the footsteps of our hero Umar Mateen (the Orlando attack shooter) and his likes.'
  • 5 December 2014: AQAP killed two hostages in Sana'a, Yemen—American journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie—during a failed rescue attempt by US Special Forces.
  • 27 November 2014: AQAP claimed responsibility for detonating two IEDs at the northern gate of the US embassy in Sana'a, Yemen, killing several security guards.

AQAP's 'Inspire' magazine has mentioned Australia in most editions—but not as frequently as the US and European countries. Examples of AQAP mentioning Australia in propaganda since the group was re-listed in 2013 include:

  • 'Inspire 15' shows a small series of photographs showing the perpetrator of the 2 October 2015 Parramatta terrorist attack, Farhad Mohammad (and a mention of Sydney).  The photographs were  included in a graphic that focuses on assassinations.

Listed by the United Nations or like-minded countries

AQAP is listed by the United Nations under UNSC Resolution 1267 (reviewed on 7 November 2013). The group is listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation by the governments of the US and Canada, and is included in the UK government's listing of al-Qa'ida.

Engagement in peace or mediation processes

AQAP was involved in peace talks with the Yemeni Government in 2013, but is not currently engaged in any peace or mediation processes.

Conclusion

On the basis of the above information, ASIO assesses that AQAP continues to be directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts or advocates the doing of terrorist acts, involving threats to human life and serious damage to property.

In the course of pursuing its objectives, AQAP is known to have committed or threatened actions that:

  • cause, or could cause, death, serious harm to persons, serious damage to property, endanger life (other than the life of the person taking the action), or create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public;
  • are intended to have those effects;
  • are done with the intention of advancing AQAP's political, religious or ideological causes;
  • are done with the intention of intimidating, the government of one or more foreign countries; and
  • are done with the intention of intimidating the public or sections of the public.