Analyzing and forecasting the Gulf Cooperation Council's geopolitical environment

Al-Qaeda’s Outlook in Yemen

By Adam Patterson
August 26, 2015

Despite the fact that al-Qaeda is responsible for the deadliest attack on U.S. soil, and that dismantling the terror apparatus was Washington’s primary motive for occupying Afghanistan, the burgeoning of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is a development that has eluded much of the American public. Yet, since the Saudi Arabian-led military coalition launched “Operation Decisive Storm” on March 26 of this year, Osama bin Laden’s former cohorts in AQAP have effectively transformed their organization into an occupying militia. This development has largely escaped the U.S. mainstream media’s radar.

Lacking significant oil reserves, Yemen has not experienced an influx of wealth as have neighboring Saudi Arabia and other nearby Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. As a result, it has become increasingly insular. Yemen has long attracted Sunni revivalists and assorted religious purists. The Yemeni strain of Arabic is believed to be the closest to that spoken during the times of the Prophet. Those with an especially austere, fundamentalist vision of Islam have flocked to Yemen believing that the area remains uncorrupted. The world’s most reactionary Sunni Muslims (frequently labeled Wahhabis or Salafists) share a special reverence for their vision of the early Muslim caliphate. Those who migrate to Yemen on these grounds do so to invoke the past and to promote a revival of their absolutist interpretation of Islam.

AQAP’s strong presence in Yemen long predates the country’s 2011 breakdown of civil authority, when the group constituted more of a hostile nuisance than a martial threat. According to reports, the al-Qaeda branch began germinating in the Arabian Peninsula during the 1990s and gradually rose to prominence as a regular instigator of violence following the escalation of Washington’s war on terror during the 2000s.

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Adam Patterson is a Washington, DC-based analyst of international security topics, with a special focus on insurgency and conflict in Arab states.