Connecting the dots on Paris and Yemen
It may be that Jan. 7, 2015, should be remembered as the day AQAP struck not only Paris but also Yemen in a coordinated attack
It may be that Jan. 7, 2015, should be remembered as the day Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) struck not only Paris but also Yemen in a coordinated attack.
The Islamic extremist attack in Paris, with the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent deadly hostage dramas, and the lethal violence on the Yemeni police academy in Saana, are linked.
The implication is that AQAP is now fully occupied with attacking the distal and proximal enemy simultaneously. This fact is a powerful message to all jihadists and their opponents.
In Saana, AQAP detonated a large car bomb outside a police academy, killing at least 38 and wounding more than 90.
The target were dozens of applicants who were lined up at the building’s gates near the Yemeni Defense Ministry and the Central Bank. According to an Arab official, France is involved in helping the Yemeni government build up its security capabilities through manpower requirements. From AQAP’s point of view, France’s increasing activity between East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, specifically Yemen, serves as an example of “Crusader” over-reach.
AQAP and threats to French interests
This is not the first time that AQAP has threatened French interests in Yemen.
We need to remember that in 2002 Al-Qaeda struck the French-owned oil tanker Limburg off the coast of Yemen. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack that killed a Bulgarian sailor. Last month, AQAP warned Muslims not to work at Total in Yemen following two failed rocket attacks on a gas liquefaction plant co-operated by Total on the Gulf of Aden. In May 2014, AQAP attacked three French security guards working with the European Union mission, killing one. Clearly, France is heavily involved in counter-terrorism operations across Africa from Mali to Djibouti. Paris’ remit is seen by AQAP and its affiliates that France is a major enemy that must be struck just as the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Danish.
Many pundits are arguing that the attack in Paris is part of the battle between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) for infamy. These analysts point to the polemics surrounding the appearance of critiques against ISIS by Al-Qaeda franchises including AQAP, Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) and the Nusra Front in early December 2014.
By late December 2014, ISIS responded in its online magazine Dabiq. It “responded” with “Al-Qaeda of Waziristan: A Testimony From Within,” which criticized Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Al-Qaeda was accused of moving too slowly to create a caliphate and Mullah Omar for considering negotiations with the Crusader enemy. Dabiq even indirectly criticized Osama bin Laden for not being interested in building a caliphate immediately.
This idea of critique between the narratives of Al-Qaeda and ISIS is not relevant to the French-Yemen attacks and is wrong when analyzing the events starting on Jan. 7. Al-Qaeda wants to attack the distant enemy wherever they may be, while ISIS is focusing on state-building. Whether one group is more potent than the other is not important.
Al-Qaeda wants to attack the distant enemy wherever they may be, while ISIS is focusing on state-building.Dr. Theodore Karasik
Al-Qaeda affiliates are hitting France and their representatives and will likely expand strikes across the continent and beyond. It’s within Al-Qaeda’s strategic doctrine to attack Europe and the United States and their interests globally. AQAP and AQIM’s doctrine is to bring Eurojihad to fruition and follows the original plans of Al-Qaeda 2020.
Al-Qaeda affiliates are hitting France and their representatives and will likely expand strikes across the continent and beyond.Dr. Theodore Karasik
That the incubators of Yemen and North Africa are fully functional and producing able fighters is an important and easily predicted development that threatens Europe’s border security and ghettoization. Perhaps it is time to reconsider the rules and regulations of the Schengen Zone.
Significantly, AQAP's English-language propaganda magazine "Inspire" has urged jihadists to carry out "lone wolf" attacks abroad. In 2013 it named Charlie Hebdo cartoonist and editor-in-chief Stephane Charbonnier among its list of targets. In addition, two months ago, AQAP released a video featuring Nasser Bin Ali al-Ansi, a top AQAP leader, encouraging jihadi groups to carry out lone wolf attacks in Western cities. In the video al-Ansi says: "The lions of Allah, the heroes of individual jihad, who are spread out throughout the land, who are also called lone wolves, must know that they are the West's troubling nightmare … They must not have a low opinion of their actions and of their jihad … killing can be done by a thousand wounds … we urge our brothers to use this opportunity, for Allah the exalted gave them the possibility to reach the enemy’s depth and his sensitive targets."
AQAP drove this operation by using the Kouchi brothers and their colleagues. Said Kouchi did travel to Yemen in 2011 and later joined AQAP for training including meeting with Anwar al-Awlaki in Shabwa.
The Paris attacks are the first AQAP attack outside of Yemen since the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt when a Nigerian AQAP recruit attempted to detonate a bomb aboard a commercial airline flying to Detroit. Cherif Kouachi, the younger of the two brothers, has a long history of Al-Qaeda-related sympathies. He was convicted in 2007 of attempting to join Al-Qaeda in Iraq and was detained for nearly three years as part of a broader investigation into an international jihadist trafficking ring, the Buttes-Chaumont network, which transported fighters in the Levant. That AQAP has fighters abroad, and are able to recruit others into smaller cells, as witnessed by the deadly actions of Amedy Coulibaly, whose radicalization occurred in a French prison, is unmistakable.
The Paris attacks are the first AQAP attack outside of Yemen since the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt when a Nigerian AQAP recruit attempted to detonate a bomb aboard a commercial airline flying to Detroit.Dr. Theodore Karasik
Overall, AQAP’s focus on France needs to raise concerns about others following the call for lone wolf attacks. AQAP and their extremist colleagues know that their message of violence is key to Al-Qaeda’s plans for Europe. Not only is Eurojihad being activated but also the increased targeting of Western support for Arab governments and their police programs on the Arabian Peninsula, just as was done in Iraq by Al-Qaeda Mesopotamia. It is going to be an interesting year in the Al-Qaeda universe.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Senior Advisor to Risk Insurance Management in Dubai, UAE. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets: @tkarasik