Skip to main content

Australian National Security
You are here >> Skip breadcrumbAustralian National Security > > Terrorist organisations > > Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

 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 (Criminal Code) provides that for an organisation to be listed as a terrorist organisation, the Australian Federal Police Minister 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 and 2016.

Terrorist activity of the organisation

Objectives

AQAP is one of al-Qa’ida’s most active affiliates. It subscribes to al-Qa’ida’s Sunni Islamist extremist ideology, which promotes violence and is strongly anti‑Western. On 13 August 2017, in the 17th issue of its English-language Inspire magazine, AQAP implied that the West is at war with Islam and stated ‘[it] will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens’, referencing earlier anti-Western rhetoric by deceased preacher and AQAP official Anwar al-Awlaki.

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 and is assessed to have undertaken since the group was re‑listed in 2016 include:

  • 20 December 2018: an improvised explosive device (IED) attack against a UAE-backed Security Belt Forces (SBF) vehicle in Abyan governorate, killing two soldiers and injuring several more.
  • 28 August 2018: an armed assault on a position belonging to the SBF in Abyan governorate. Five soldiers were reportedly killed and three others were wounded.
  • 23 June 2018: an IED attack against Huthi forces in Ibb governorate. A Huthi official and two guards were reportedly killed.
  • 14 June 2018: a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attack against the SBF in Abyan governorate, killing three soldiers and wounding seven others.
  • 12 June 2017: a VBIED and gun attack on a Yemeni government army camp in Hadramout governorate, killing two soldiers.
  • 27 March 2017: a VBIED and gun attack on a Yemeni government compound in Lahij governorate, killing six soldiers.

Historically, a number of significant disrupted attack plots have also been reliably attributed to AQAP, including:

  • 27 November 2014: AQAP claimed responsibility for and is assessed to have undertaken an attempt to assassinate the United States (US) Ambassador in Sana’a, Yemen—two 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, advocated terrorist attacks in order to further the group’s objectives. Public statements by AQAP since its re-listing in 2016 include:

  • 10 March 2019: In a video titled ‘They Hurry to Their Friendship’, senior AQAP official and spokesperson Khalid Batarfi attacked Saudi Arabia’s normalisation with Israel and alleged moral, political and religious corruption. He called for believers to confront and topple the Saudi regime.
  • 18 April 2018: In the second issue of AQAP’s ‘Madad’ newsletter, Khalid Batarfi urged Yemenis to rise up against the UAE presence in southern Yemen. The newsletter exploited a recent spate of killings to appeal to remaining imams of mosques in Aden, Yemen, to leave the city and join AQAP’s ranks.
  • 23 January 2018: In a video titled ‘Our duty towards our Jerusalem’, as a response to the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Khalid Batarfi urged attacks on Israel, as well as the US, Britain and France.
  • 2 September 2017: In a video titled ‘Burma: the forgotten wound’, Khalid Batarfi called on Muslims to support their Rohingya brethren. He urged al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent to carry out attacks, for Muslims in Myanmar to prepare for jihad, and for Muslims in neighbouring countries to supply them with equipment and ammunition.

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 2016 include:

  • 13 August 2017: AQAP released ‘Inspire 17’, which was dedicated to train derailment and impacting the transportation sector. It reviewed the economic impact of train derailment, gave designs and instructions for fabricating a derailment tool, and provided major train routes for the United States.

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'. AQAP also supports local militias against the Huthi, integrating itself into local populations which reject Huthi attempts to control their territory.

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 was led by explosives expert Ibrahim al-Asiri until his alleged death in a US air strike in late-2017. Al-Asiri was the mastermind behind a number of plots targeting global aviation. Before his death, al-Asiri may have spent time training the next generation of AQAP bomb makers.

Membership

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.

AQAP releases its audio-visual messages online via its al-Malahim media outlet to broaden its reach and appeal. Although AQAP appears to have ceased production of ‘Sada al-Malahim’ (The Echo of Battles), its magazine for Yemeni audiences, and the English-language ‘Inspire’ magazine, the group produces a short newsletter, ‘Madad’, which it first released on 14 March 2018. AQAP also continues to release messages by senior spokesperson Khalid Batarfi.

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 links with al-Qa'ida-affiliated terrorist group al-Shabaab, which operates in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Links to Australia

There have been no corroborated links between AQAP and Australian individuals or interests since the group was re-listed in 2016.

Threats to Australian interests

AQAP remains committed to conducting and encouraging others to undertake terrorist attacks against Western targets, which includes Australian interests; however, no known AQAP attacks have killed or injured Australian citizens. There have been no attacks against Western interests since AQAP was re-listed in 2016, but demonstrated AQAP support for Western attacks since its re-listing include:

  • 7 May 2017: AQAP released a video titled ‘A Lone Mujahid or an Army by Itself’, which featured AQAP leader Qasim al-Rimi calling for ‘eye for an eye’ lone-actor attacks in the West as retaliation for tragedies upon Muslims.
  • 7 April 2017: AQAP released the fifth issue of its ‘Inspire Guide’, which analysed the 22 March 2017 lone-actor attack on the Parliament Building in London, claimed by the Islamic State. The report concluded that the attack was successful and encouraged individuals in the West to follow suit with similar attacks.

AQAP’s ‘Inspire’ magazine has mentioned Australia in most editions—but not as frequently as the US and European countries. However, AQAP has not mentioned Australia in propaganda since the group was re‑listed in 2016.

Listed by the United Nations or like-minded countries

AQAP is listed by the United Nations under UNSC Resolution 1267 (last reviewed on 2 February 2016). 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‑Qaʻida.

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, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (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.