Initial Notes on AQAP’s statements
I have just finished a first reading of the three statements AQAP posted to jihadi forums earlier today. The one that is getting the most attention – not surprisingly – is the one that takes credit for two parcel bombs and the downing of a UPS plane in Dubai in September.
But for me, by far the most interesting statement is #27, which denies that AQAP had anything to do with two bombs outside a sports club in Aden on October 11. I will return to this below, and talk about why I think this statement is so significant. but first a couple of notes.
Note 1: Statement #28 talks about the fighting in Mudiya on October 14, 2010. I wrote about this fight here, in which the brother of the governor of Abyan was killed. Now we have AQAP’s version of the fighting, interesting details, but probably only to me. So I’ll save you the full discussion.
Note 2 : Another thing that I have noticed is the change in references to President Ali AbdullahSalih now and in the pages of Sada al-Malahim back when it was under the editorial guidance of al-Qahtani, who was killed in an airstrike. I’m not sure if this is a difference between Sada al-Malahim and AQAP statements or whether this is a difference between 2008 and 2010.
But it used to be that AQAP rarely referred to President Salih by name, I mean they would, but the majority of the references were to al-Aswad al-Ansi, and now it is all to Ali Abdullah Salih and his “regime.” I don’t quite know what to make of the difference, but it is there and it means something. I’m just not smart enough to figure out what.
Note 3: There will undoubtedly be a great deal of speculation over whether or not AQAP’s claims of bringing down the UPS plane on September 3 are true. But one thing that stood out to me was the possible implications for the al-Fayfi story. I, more so than most, have argued that al-Fayfi couldn’t have been the intelligence link that led to the discovery of the bombs as AQAP knew he was “captured” or “arrested” – depending on whether you believe AQAP or Saudi Arabia – prior to September 4. So he wouldn’t have known about the dates, tracking numbers off the parcel bombs and AQAP should have known that any information he had was compromised.
However, if AQAP did in fact bring down the plane on September 3 then al-Fayfi very well could have known about that plot and given the Saudis information about AQAP plans for repeat performances, but he still couldn’t have provided the details suggested in the stories being peddled so far. But this claim – if true – does beg some interesting questions on what exactly al-Fayfi knew.
Statement 27: Above I mentioned that I found statement 27 the most interesting and most important of the three posted today and here is why. This is AQAP speaking directly to its target audience. It isn’t speaking to the US or Saudi governments as in Statement 29 and while statement 28 does speak to people AQAP believes to be its constituents it is mostly an accounting of what happened, how many soldiers AQAP killed, how much equipment it destroyed and some jabs at the Yemeni government.
Statement 27 is different. It is a list of six reasons for why AQAP couldn’t have been behind the two bombs in Aden. None of these are reasons like: we weren’t in Aden at the time, but rather explanations for why the bombing in Aden was outside the realm of what AQAP does.
This is important. I can’t stress this enough. This is AQAP talking about itself and what it believes about itself and what it wants Muslims in Yemen to believe about it.
For the past week I have been speaking to reporters about the bombing plot and invariably they ask me what the US can do to counter AQAP in Yemen. This is what I have been telling them. The US and Yemen have to take statements like #27 and use it against AQAP. The organization is vulnerable here.
For example in reason number 4, AQAP states that its members are bound by shariah law and that they can only kill and fight people that shariah law permits them to kill and fight. One sentence later that statement says that AQAP “differentiates” between those it is permitted to kill and those it is not permitted to kill.
This is where the US and Yemeni government have a huge opening to counter AQAP and destroy the narrative they are building about themselves. (As I have said repeatedly right now no one is speaking up in Arabic in Yemen against AQAP, which means that the terrorists have the field to themselves.)
It would not, or perhaps, it should not be difficult for a US official to write an op-ed in al-Thawra (Yemen’s official daily) using statement # 27 as a template and taking each point apart sentence-by-sentence. Then, why not take a page out of AQAP’s book and distribute the statement as a flyer throughout Abyan and Shabwa. Trust me that Arabic op-ed would be discussed, debated and read over and over again in qat chews throughout the country.
Ask questions like: AQAP says that it is bound by shariah law and that it can only kill people that shariah law permits it to kill, but if this is true how could it have carried out the parcel bomb plot that was intended to kill people in Chicago by exploding over the city? What about all the Muslims who live in Chicago? Are they not true Muslims if they live in America? Are they not protected by shariah law if they live in America? What about your relatives and former neighbors who are currently living in the US, are they not true Muslims? Are they fair game for al-Qaeda to attack and kill? Does shariah law permit their killing?
Something like this could be done throughout the statement – juxtaposing what AQAP says about itself (throughout the document it presents itself as the protector of the weak and downtrodden, sort of modern-day Robin Hood for Yemen’s oppressed masses) – with what it does. I think a dedicated effort to combating AQAP’s rhetoric and vision of itself would not only pay short term dividends in terms of limiting recruiting but is also part of a long-term strategy when it comes to making sure AQAP doesn’t re-emerge in the future.
Of course something like this is not a whole strategy, but it should be part of the strategy.