Political Analysis

Al-Qaeda in Yemen names France, not US, main enemy

Latest message from AQAP leaders says that the US has been ‘weakened’ and France new enemy.

The ideological leader of Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said Friday that France had surpassed the United States as the top enemy of Islam.

With the “weakening” of the United States in recent years, France has replaced America in the “war on Islam,” Ibrahim al-Rubaish said in an audio message published by AQAP’s media arm on YouTube.

US intelligence agencies consider AQAP to be the most dangerous branch of the al-Qaeda network.

One of the group’s ideologues, Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, has claimed in a video that AQAP was behind the 7 January attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead.

Cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published by the magazine have angered many Muslims.

Western governments say it remains unclear if AQAP directly orchestrated the attack on the weekly, although they do believe one or both of the attackers, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, spent time with al-Qaeda members in Yemen.

“Among analysts and practitioners, the threat from al-Qaeda was never forgotten. However, for the vast majority who do not follow jihadist minutiae, Islamic State had become the new terrorist bogeyman,” Charlie Winter, a researcher and programme officer at the Quilliam Foundation, a London-based think tank that focuses on ‘counter-extremism’, wrote in a recent column for Middle East Eye.

“In these circumstances, then, AQAP claimed the attack, an act that will inevitably re-insert it into the global media discourse on jihadist-motivated terrorism. Indeed, the Charlie Hebdo attack could almost be seen as AQAP trying to put itself back on the map.”

AQAP was formed in 2009 after a merger between militants in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Rubaish on Friday urged attacks on the West, singling out France.

He also called on Muslims to target, “without consulting anyone”, those who mock the Muslim prophet.

AQAP has a track record of launching attacks far from its base in Yemen, including an attempt to blow up an American airliner over Michigan on Christmas Day in 2009.

The group’s English-language propaganda publication had urged militants to carry out attacks abroad, naming Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief Stephane Charbonnier among a list of targets.