Understanding The Al Qaeda In Yemen Threat Following The Charlie Hebdo Attack

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni branch of the extremist network, released a video on Wednesday claiming responsibility for last week’s attack on the office of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

While U.S. officials have said the video is authentic, the truth of the claim and the specifics of Al Qaeda’s role in the Paris attack are still unclear.

In light of the announcement, which featured a senior AQAP leader, HuffPost Live took a comprehensive look into the organization and its ties to the larger Al Qaeda network.

AQAP was formed in 2009 out of Al Qaeda in Yemen and the Saudi Arabian branch of Al Qaeda. The group was behind the nearly successful attack on an American plane on its way to Detroit by a Nigerian Muslim, who later became known as the "underwear bomber."

Journalist Peter Salisbury told HuffPost Live host Josh Zepps that counterterrorism officials in Washington started considering AQAP "as probably being the deadliest threat to American interests of all the Al Qaeda affiliates, because it has been planning and attempting to execute … attacks on American and Western interests and on Saudi interests abroad rather than just in their country."

Katherine Zimmerman, a senior Al Qaeda analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, explained that Al Qaeda's regional affiliates, including AQAP, are part of the larger Al Qaeda organizational structure, reporting to the leaders of the main group. “When we talk about Al Qaeda, it’s necessary to think about the core group in Afghanistan and Pakistan and also the senior leadership, which is spread globally,” Zimmerman said.

While Zimmerman said Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is not likely issuing day-to-day commands to the various affiliate groups, he is “guiding the entire Al Qaeda network overall.”

AQAP claims that al-Zawahiri signed off on the attack in Paris and may have also chosen Charlie Hebdo as the target, but these details remain unverified, she added.

Ghassan Shabaneh, chair of the Department of International Studies at Marymount Manhattan College, expressed suspicion towards Al Qaeda’s conveniently-timed claim of responsibility, suggesting that the claim may be a stunt aimed at reclaiming public attention since the notorious ascent of their Islamic State group rivals.

“They see themselves right now as an organization … that has been losing all the command and control that they have wished for around the globe,” he said. “[The video] is for public consumption -- no more, no less -- and also a competition between them and ISIS or ISIL in Iraq and in Syria because we see ISIS and ISIL, right now, are the main target and the main focus of intelligence groups around the globe and also for local recruitment inside the Middle East.”

Watch the full conversation about AQAP in the video above.

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Al Qaeda In The Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)