AL QAEDA IN THE ARABIAN PENINSULA (AQAP)
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which U.S. President Barack Obama has described as "al Qaeda's most active operational affiliate," was founded in January 2009 when al Qaeda's Saudi and Yemeni branches merged. The Islamic militant group is headquartered in Yemen and has conducted many of its attacks on Yemeni soil, primarily in the south, but has also proved to have a global reach. Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last September, was one of the group's primary propagandists, playing a role in the radicalization of an astonishing array of terrorists. AQAP-linked figures who have surfaced in the United States include the Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan, the "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and the Times Square plotter Faisal Shahzad.
As the Yemeni state crumbles, al Qaeda has made impressive gains, even establishing an "Islamic emirate" in the southern province of Abyan. AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi once served as Osama bin Laden's personal secretary and has several times been rumored dead, only to pop up again. The Washington Post has reported that the United States is establishing "secret drone bases" in the region as part of an effort to eliminate high-ranking AQAP officials in Yemen and is seeking to expand the campaign by launching strikes against suspected terrorists even when the identities of those who could be killed are unknown.
Above, two suspected members of al Qaeda in Yemen, accused of plotting attacks on Western targets in the country, are seen behind bars in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, in February 2006.
KHALED FAZAA/AFP/Getty Images