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Group Linked to Paris Attack Suspect Is Al Qaeda's Most Dangerous Branch

Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula has a history of taking aim at Western targets.
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Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group which U.S. officials say provided some training for at least one suspect in Wednesday's attack on a French magazine, is the same terror organization that killed an American hostage in Yemen late last year after a failed rescue.

The hostage, Luke Somers, a photojournalist, was killed along with a South African teacher on Dec. 6 when AQAP militants realized that American commandos were storming their village.

That AQAP, based in Yemen, could reach its terror into the heart of Paris is alarming as it is considered the most violent branch of al Qaeda, and intelligence officials have regarded it for some time as the most likely to stage an attack on the West.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was formed in 2009 when Yemeni and Saudi terrorists united. Its most prominent member was Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

And one of its more outlandish plots was a bust: On Christmas Day 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, tried and failed to detonate a bomb on a jetliner coming in for a landing in a Detroit.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was also behind a failed plot the following year to blow up American cargo planes using bombs hidden in printer cartridges.

And just last spring, "Inspire," an online magazine published by AQAP in English, posted a "Wanted dead or alive" graphic that included the name of Charlie Hebdo's top editor, Stephane Charbonnier. Charb, as he was affectionately known, was killed in Wednesday's attack along with 11 others.

But the organization has generally had much more success closer to home. AQAP claimed responsibility for a May 2012 bomb attack on the Yemeni army that killed 120 people. Then an AQAP attack at a Yemeni hospital in December 2013 killed more than 50.

Its leader is one of the most wanted men in the world: Nasir al-Wuhayshi, who is believed to be in his early 40s and a possible successor to Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of the broader al Qaeda who is based in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Wuhayshi won praise within al Qaeda after he and 22 other captives escaped a Yemeni prison in 2006. He was a personal assistant to Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks. The United States is offering $10 million for his capture.

The organization is distinct from ISIS. Last year, another top official in AQAP released a video rebuking Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, and seeking to discredit his aspiration for a far-reaching Islamic caliphate.


— with Hasani Gittens