— -- Hours after the two men behind the Charlie Hebdo attack were killed by French police, al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), claimed responsibility for the plot, saying it was revenge for the magazine’s satirizing of the Prophet Muhammad.
The fact that the two Kouachi brothers, Cherif and Said, were influenced by al-Qaeda in Yemen (Said trained with the group there in 2011) is only the latest reflection of the group’s intent on attacking western targets, including on the United States.
Yemen has been a base for al-Qaeda operatives even before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Just under a year before, suicide bombers attacked the USS Cole, stationed in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors and injuring 39 others. Ibrahim al-Nashiri, who is now considered a key member of AQAP, was determined by the United States to have played a role in the bombing of the USS Cole.
AQAP was also behind the failed Christmas Day bomb plot in 2009, in which leaders sewed bomb materials into the underwear of would-be assailant Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian student who lived with an al-Qaeda leader in the country’s capital, Sanaa, for about a month while he trained. The bomb failed to detonate as Abdulmutallab traveled on a plane bound for Detroit.
U.S. officials also said AQAP tried to mimic that attempt the following year by sending explosive-laden packages to the U.S., but the packages were intercepted in Dubai and England, thanks to a tip by Saudi intelligence.
More recently, the group had held U.S. citizen Luke Somers hostage before ultimately killing him during a failed U.S. Navy Seal attempt to rescue him.
While terrorists have long been operating out of Yemen, the actual group AQAP was formed in 2009 after a Yemeni faction of al Qaeda and Saudi extremists agreed to pool their terrorism talents and resources, according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. The group, which declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda “core” leader Osama bin-Laden before his May 2011 death, started with local operations before branching out into a “global strategy.”
That global strategy attracted radical clerics like Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born imam whose online, English-language sermons inspired Nidal Hassan, the U.S. Army major who killed 13 people at the Army’s Fort Hood base in Texas in 2009.
Al-Awlaki was killed in September 2011 by one of the United States’ most effective and pervasive weapons in the fight against terror: unmanned CIA drones.
According to analysis by the New America Foundation, the United States has launched 102 airstrikes in Yemen since 2002, plus 15 airstrikes. The data found that between 820 and 1082 individuals have been killed, with about 80 being civilians.
With the exception of one strike, they were all launched during the Obama administration.
ABC'S Lee Ferran contributed to this report.