The leader of al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen called for attacks on the U.S. after a Jan. 29 Special Forces raid in which several civilians were killed, as well as a U.S. Navy SEAL. In an audio message, Qassim al-Rimi, leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), scorned Donald Trump as the “new fool of the White House.” Here, how a powerful enemy has regrouped:
THRIVING IN CHAOS
AQAP has benefited from the security vacuum created by Yemen’s ongoing civil war. As military forces backed by a Saudi Arabia–led coalition battle the Houthi rebels who seized much of the country in 2014 and 2015, state institutions have collapsed. More than 10,000 people have died, and the country is on the brink of famine.
AQAP also flourished as the U.S. shifted resources to the fight against ISIS in 2014–15. Now it is again powerful enough to control territory in a weakened Yemen. In the first such offensive in months, the group recently attacked towns in the southern Abyan province. The U.S. raid was reportedly an attempt to dispatch al-Rimi but may instead make him more influential.
Among al-Qaeda’s various franchises, AQAP is considered the largest threat to the West, most recently claiming the 2015 attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Now it seems intent on striking Americans in the U.S., with al-Rimi urging followers to “burn the land beneath their feet.” Worryingly for the U.S., the botched raid prompted Yemen by Feb. 7 to halt American ground missions–removing its most direct means of taking the fight to the militants.
This appears in the February 20, 2017 issue of TIME.
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