Since July 2010 AQAP has published an online English-language e-zine called Inspire, which includes call to arms as well as ideas for attacking the West. In its November issue, AQAP boasts that its plot to blow up two air cargo planes was a success even though the bombs were intercepted before they exploded.
"For us, blowing up the planes would have made us very pleased but according to our plan and specified objectives it was only a plus," AQAP's head of foreign operations writes. "[We] determined that if both packages passed through the X-Ray systems at the airport, that would raise a worldwide alert that would force upon the West two choices: You either spend billions of dollars to inspect every package in the world or you do nothing and we keep trying again."
AQAP called its plot “Operation Hemorrhage,” with the cover of the e-zine simply displaying “$4,200,” or the total price of the plot, according to AQAP. Its message is simply: AQAP will bleed the United States dry.
Brachman says AQAP understands their target audience and has turned “jihadism into a game” and made it sexy. He notes that American jihadists--such as Alabama-native Omar Hammami, who fights with the al-Shabaab militia in Somalia, and New Mexico-native Anwar al-Awlaki, who American officials believe plays both a propaganda and operational role in AQAP--have created an idea of “al Qaeda Idol” intended to inspire disaffected young Muslims in the West to take up arms and carry out attacks in their own countries.
AQAP’s message to Western jihadists, said Boucek, is to stay home and mount low-cost, high-return attacks, like shooting up a restaurant in D.C. during the lunch-time rush, rather than traveling to Yemen to train or fight.
According to Barif, AQAP is “shrewd, compact, and [has] shown remarkable resolve.”
While the experts noted that the United States would like to see Saleh stay in power become of his counterterrorism partnership, they also cautioned that the United States cannot be seen as the regime’s puppetmaster.
Brachman said that more the United States talks about its counterterrorism relationship with the Yemeni government, the more the Yemeni public will see the regime as illegitimate. Boucek advised that U.S. counterterrorism assistance to Yemen must be clandestine while Barfi argued direct U.S. military intervention in Yemen would only cause blowback.
Whatever course the United States chooses in Yemen, American policy must balance conflicting priorities, said Boucek. The problem, he said, is how does the U.S. government support Yemeni counterterrorism efforts without supporting a regime that has little if no legitimacy in the Yemeni people's eyes.
♦ Photograph of Yemeni landscape by mwanasimba/Flickr