Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) gave one of the Charlie Hebdo jihadi killers $20,000 three years ago to conduct terror operations abroad, according to two unnamed counterterrorism officials speaking to ABC News on Thursday.
AQAP leadership said in a statement late Wednesday that their al-Qaeda branch “chose the target, laid the plan, and financed the operation,” with regard to the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. In the AQAP video, a senior ranking member of the group explains that the Charlie Hebdo attack was ordered by the deceased AQ leader Osama bin Laden. The AQAP leader said that plans for the attack were put together by Anwar al-Awlaki, who was known as al-Qaeda’s chief recruiter and was killed by a U.S. drone strike in September 2011.
The intelligence officials told ABC that they were not aware of any intelligence that showed the Kouachi brothers and AQAP members had communicated in recent months. “This could change, but so far we haven’t found evidence AQAP was talking to the brothers recently,” said one of the unnamed officials.
Yemen’s descent into chaotic headquarters of the largest wing of al-Qaeda follows an announcement by the White House that counterterrorism operations in the nation had been going well. President Obama claimed in September that Yemen was a U.S. counterterrorism success, and that the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, IS) terror group would be modeled after efforts in Yemen and Somalia. The President stated:
This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.
Since Obama’s mid September speech, the U.S. has largely withdrawn from Yemen, and has only conducted three drone strikes in the country, according to data provided by the New America Foundation.
“Al Qaeda is completely emboldened. … The U.S. is facing a deep crises,” Adam Baron of the European Council on Foreign Relations told Politico.
A former State Department counterterror official, Daniel Benjamin, revealed, “The long-term prospect for building on the progress we had before with the government of Yemen is in peril, and that is a scary thing.”
Yemen continues to be in a state of de facto civil war, with al-Qaeda on one side and Iran-backed Houthi rebels on the other, along with a Yemeni government that struggles to hold any influence over the country. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken advantage of the continuing power vacuum and dwindling U.S. influence in the region and has often utilized terror attacks and other means to expand its influence.