In those recent messages, high-ranking clerics focused on recent events in the region, noting that jihadist fighters had made gains in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and slamming the Saudi government for backing the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. They cast the actions of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula as only a single front in a global battle against the U.S. and its allies, seizing on the evacuation of embassy staff to portray the United States as a paper tiger.
“Now America is running from Afghanistan amidst heavy military defeat as the Islamic Emirate returns under the leadership of the commander of the faithful, Mullah Omar,” cleric Hareth al Nathari said in one of the group’s video statements, referring to Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban. “And in Yemen . . . America evacuated its citizens and intelligence officers by a military cargo plane, a scene indicating the severity of the terror and panic resulting from the anger of the Islamic world due to its crimes against Muslims.”
A subsequent statement attributed to al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula that was posted on an online jihadist forum went even further, casting claims of an impending operation as “propaganda” aimed at justifying American military action.
While potential plots against Western targets tend to take center stage in international discussions, in Yemen itself the focus tends to fall on a far quieter form of activity by the group.
Acknowledging that American drone strikes and Yemeni military actions have increased the pressure on al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, many analysts of the group have stressed that such acts ultimately have done little more than spur the group to change tactics.
While the group’s statements are filled with lofty rhetoric and grand ambitions, when it comes to actions much of its attention is locally focused.
Since a spring 2012 offensive saw Yemeni troops dislodge militants affiliated with al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula from former strongholds in the southern province of Abyan, the group has expanded its presence in rural areas across the country, capitalizing on simmering discontent with the central government and building support among locals.
Pointing to the gains the terrorist group has made, many analysts argue that its primary priority appears to be community relations and taking advantage of gaps left by the central government. But even if this indicates that striking the West may have taken a backseat for now, they stress that it means the group will only be far better placed to do so in the future.
“What appears to be happening is that AQAP has seen their efforts at external operations curtailed and has responded by shifting strategy,” analyst Iryani said.