- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2017

Al Qaeda’s most dangerous branch office is focusing more on the single-jihadi terrorist business, muscling in on operations advocated by its Sunni extremist competitor, the Islamic State group.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), with headquarters in Yemen, recently sent out tactical guidance for followers on how to copy the carnage inflicted by the lone attacker who drove a truck into a crowd and then stabbed a security guard in the shadow of the British Parliament in London.

The Yemeni branch is widely seen as al Qaeda’s most dangerous franchise because of its focus on attacking the U.S. homeland. It strives to build bombs that can be secreted onto airliners.

Its growing strength led the Trump administration to launch a SEAL Team 6 ground assault in January to kill AQAP’s leadership and capture intelligence, a mission that led to a fierce firefight. The Pentagon later unleashed a series of airstrikes on AQAP facilities, terrorists and equipment.

The latest in a series of tactical advice to terrorists is released in a publication called Inspire Guide, in which AQAP reveals that it has set up a “Lone Jihad Guide Team.”

Inspire Guide is a shorter version of AQAP’s English-language Inspire online magazine, the terrorist world’s first significant online publication debuting in 2010. The New Jersey Homeland Security Department has taken notice of the guide, saying, “These shorter publications allow rapid dissemination of AQAP messages following global attacks.”

Analysts say the publication shows al Qaeda is taking a page from the Islamic State playbook in carrying the jihad struggle to the homelands of its Western adversaries, a shift accelerated as its rival’s homeland in Iraq and Syria continues to shrink.

Said Robert Maginnis, a retired Army officer and terrorism analyst, “Al Qaeda took a lesson from the Islamic State to begin calling upon their followers across the world to take the jihad to the Western enemy. What’s become clear as the fight to destroy the Islamic State continues [is] there is opportunity for ‘al Qaeda Central’ to reassert itself and re-tap financiers — which are now pulling their support from the Islamic State.”

Al Qaeda Central” is a reference to its core operations in the Afghan-Pakistani region founded by Osama bin Laden. It was the target of the 2001 U.S. invasion to liberate Kabul from the Taliban.

Yemen as nerve center

But AQAP across the Persian Gulf in Yemen is starting to look like the real nerve center, a goal bin Laden laid out in the 1990s, viewing the Saudi Arabian neighbor as the best spot to build a radical Sunni Salafist Muslim state.

The online Inspire Guide cites the March 22 bridge-pedestrian attack in London as the perfect way to blend military and political objectives into one simple operation carried out by one jihadi, one rented SUV and two knives.

Khalid Masood killed six and injured 49, some of them critically.

Scotland Yard said it could not supply a motive. But terrorism analysts said he was clearly following a playbook issued by the Islamic State terrorist group, whose followers conducted similar mass murder-by-vehicle in Nice, Berlin and, just last week, Stockholm.

Inspire Guide praised Masood in its three-page Inspire guide and called on Muslims in the West — read: “Europe and the U.S.” — to duplicate the London strike.

“We send our message to the lone mujahedeen in the West: O Mujahedeen, you are the head of our war and our drawn sword, so seek guidance in Allah and put your trust in Him. Then choose your targets carefully and determine the optimum location. Prepare the most effective and simple means, and do not forget the appropriate time.”

Inspire praised Masood for his decision to target Westminster, the seat of British government, and for the timing of the attack. The afternoon high-speed plowing along the Westminster bridge happened at peak afternoon tourist traffic, and as Prime Minister Theresa May was voting inside the House of Commons.

“Without a doubt, the operation by the lone mujahedeen on the British Parliament is successful by every standard,” Inspire said. “The executor excelled in selecting the time and location, and employing the rule of ‘the art of the possible’ in choosing the means and weapons. At the same time, however, we call on the lone mujahedeen not to rely on one form of means or one method, but to broaden the possibilities and increase the options in what means and methods to employ.”

Mr. Maginnis said that AQAP’s entry into small-market terrorism also reflects the intense competition for cash from wealthy Sunni financiers in the Persian Gulf. Al Qaeda needed to make itself more appealing by mimicking the Islamic State. Founded just a few years ago, the Islamic State stunned the world by capturing parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014 and then embarked on a sophisticated social media campaign to inspire jihadis around the world.

Al Qaeda Central realized it had to either adjust its strategy or lose resources because many former financiers shifted their support to the Islamic State,” Mr. Maginnis said.

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