But that is just the beginning.
Background on AQAP:
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was formed in 2009 after the Yemeni and Saudi branches of al-Qaeda merged together. Before this, however, Yemen was a ripe area for jihadists. During the Soviet War in Afghanistan, thousands of Yemeni's went off to fight the Russian forces. Also during the 1980's, thousands of Yemeni's who had returned from Afghanistan were utilized by then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh to fight the communist forces of South Yemen.
In 1992, al-Qaeda, as an organization, conducted their first ever terrorist attack in none other than Aden, Yemen. The attack was meant to kill American soldiers in Aden who were waiting to go to Somalia as part of Operation Restore Hope. While no Americans were killed, it did kill an Australian and a Yemeni. In 2000, al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQY) conducted a terrorist attack on the USS Cole, which killed seventeen sailors. In 2002, the United States conducted their first drone strike by targeting the then-leader of AQY, Abu Ali al-Harithi. Jumping forward to 2006, twenty-three AQY members escaped from a prison in Sana'a, Yemen. These twenty-three included several future high-ranking members, including the now-amir Nasir al-Wuhayshi.
It should be noted that Osama bin Laden, himself, had ancestral roots in Yemen. According to the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project, bin Laden said this in 2003: “Areas most in need of liberation are Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen."; as well as saying: “Youth of Islam…especially in the neighboring countries and Yemen: You must roll up your sleeves [and] prepare for jihad.” It is important to note because specifically namedropping (twice) highlights that bin Laden is condoning the jihad in Yemen, as well as legitimatizing it.
Role in the AQ Network:
AQAP plays an important role within the al-Qaeda network. The group, as described by the United States government, is the most active al-Qaeda branch in targeting the United States. In 2009, Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab (better known as the "Underwear Bomber") attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight via a bomb located in his underwear. In 2010, AQAP again tried to strike in the homeland; this time it was on a cargo plane in Chicago that arrived from Yemen. Yet again in 2012, they tried to bomb another plane with an "experimental bomb"; this plot was thankfully foiled in time.
Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the now-amir of AQAP, also serves as thegeneral manager of the entirety of the al-Qaeda Network. This puts him at an extremely important position in the network, as the role(s) of the GM includes: "coordinating military and media activities, and communicating with al Qaeda's "regions," or affiliates, as well as allies such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban". So this means that Nasir al-Wuhayshi is in charge of overseeing military and media activities of the various different groups within the network, as well as communicating and interacting with the various regional heads.
The job of "coordinating military activities" was evident earlier this year when it was discovered that "terrorist groups in Syria was working alongside operatives from al Qaeda's prolific offshoot in Yemen to produce "creative" new designs for bombs". The "terrorist groups in Syria" is most definitely a reference to the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's official branch in Syria. It should come as no surprise that the Yemen branch of al-Qaeda would be helping to develop better bombs, as Ibrahim al-Asiri, AQAP's master bombmaker, was the person responsible for the aforementioned attempted bombings on planes headed to the United States.
AQAP also plays an important role in propaganda efforts, with their various productions and series under al-Malahim. Before he was killed in a drone strike, US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was a heavily influential propagandist and recruiter for AQAP. Him, along with another American Samir Khan, published the "Inspire" magazine. The magazine was said to have been influential in the radicalization of Faisal Shahzad, the person respsonsible for the failed Tehrik-e-Taliban plot to bomb Times Square in New York City. The Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hassan, was in frequent communication with al-Awlaki, and the latter played a large part in the former's radicalization. AQAP's ability to radicalize individuals via online propaganda efforts and influential ideologues continues to be a grave threat to the United States, as the Boston Bombers were also heavily influenced by the Inspire magazine.
With the instability in Yemen continuing, AQAP will still be able to capitalize on the fact to expand control and conduct more and more terrorist attacks in Yemen. Just today, an IED planted by AQAP went off in Lahj, which killed thirteen people. According to the Long War Journal, a twitter account affiliated with AQAP said that the bombing was intended for the Yemeni Popular Committees. However, some local officials also claimed that the IED was planted close to the residency of the governor of Lahj.
We can expect to see more bombings like today, more assaults like shown in the video, more raids on Houthi and Yemeni military outposts/targets, and potentially for more plots and attacks on the United States and/or its interests. Despite numerous drone strikes in Yemen, the group has shown to be very resilient, much like al-Qaeda general command. They are still able to conduct business as usual, still able to kill innocent people in Yemen, still able to export expertise, training, financing and advice to various al-Qaeda affiliates across the globe, and still able to plot attacks against the United States.
We can also see AQAP try to exercise more control over Hadhramawt province. With "escalating clashes between AQAP and the Yemeni military in Hadhramawt", including the killing of fifty Yemeni troops, AQAP seems to be in the process of establishing an emirate in Hadhramawt, so more attacks like these for the sake of consolidating power will probably be more frequent.
With everything happening in regards to the Islamic State, we should not underestimate or even write off the threats posed by al-Qaeda and their many regional branches. This should be even more evident if AQ feels they need to launch another big attack to try and regain some influence lost to the Islamic State. However, as Thomas Joscelyn and Daveed Gartenstien-Ross points out, "It is Zawahiri's organization, not the Islamic State, that will most likely pose the top jihadist threat to the United States and other Western countries in three to five years. Despite its rapid gains, the Islamic State is already showing its weaknesses -- notably in its failure to attract a deep network outside Iraq and Syria and its propensity to alienate potential partners through its brutality and refusal to compromise".
I could not agree more with that assessment.