In an unfortunate piece of timing, Yemen's Saba News Agency announced today that the Yemen Army has ended its operations in the al-Kur Mountains of Shabwa Province, after failing to locate any Al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Penuinsula (AQAP) elements there. This comes at a time when the US and UK assume AQAP is behind today's interception of explosive devices on cargo flights.
AQAP, which emerged from the merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of Al-Qa‘ida, has become one of the most active movements in recent years, with operations ranging from the USS Cole to the attempt to assassinate Prince Muhammad bin Nayef of Saudi Arabia. Lately, they have of course shown a serious interest in striking inside the United States, with reported links to both the Fort Hood shooter and the "underwear bomber" of last Christmas. One reason for the focus on the US may be the presence in Yemen of Anwar al-‘Awlaqi, the New Mexico-born radical of Yemeni descent.
Western intelligence sources reportedly believe ‘Awlaqi is hiding in the mountains of Shabwa, despite the Yemeni Army's aforementioned inability to find any AQAP there. (One reason he will be hard to find: before the British left South Yemen, a major part of what is now Shabwa was called the Sultanate of ‘Awlaq. His tribal roots are there, and if the tribes are protecting him, the government won't find him. So far the Predators haven't found him either, though they've reportedly been given the right to take him out. Usama bin Ladin's ancestral roots, of course, lie in neighboring Hadramawt.)
AQAP is serious about striking the US: earlier this year they published a colorful, English-language jihadi magazine called Inspire, the first issue of which included the article "How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom," (a pressure cooker is involved). The second issue was released just a few weeks ago. It offers (in a section it calls "Open Source Jihad") advice to potential Jihadis living in the West on how to conceal their identity, avoid suspicion, and plan their own attacks. (Since it includes bombmaking instructions and other unpleasant — and illegal — stuff, I've linked to the Jihadica analysis, not the magazine itself, but copies are out there, and I've looked the first two issues over.)
I suspect we're going to hear a lot more about AQAP and ‘Awlaqi in coming days.