Monday, October 05, 2009

Illustrating an (Attempted) Assassination: The Visual Media of Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula

From left: AQAP's Amir, Abu Basir Nasir al-Wuhayshi, 'Abdullah Hassan 'Asiri, the attempted assassin of Prince Muhammad bin Nayyif, and AQAP leader Abu Sufyan al-'Azdi al-Shihri.

In late August, Prince Muhammad bin Nayyif bin 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Sa'ud, the deputy interior minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, narrowly missed being assassinated in a kamikaze (suicide) bombing in his Jeddah offices by 'Abdullah Hassan 'Asiri, a jihadi who said he wanted to surrender and enter the kingdom's much-debated de-radicalization program, which falls under counter-terrorism operations, Prince Muhammad bin Nayyif's purview. 'Asiri, it is believed, hid explosives in his body, which were then detonated with a cell phone.

'Abdullah Hassan 'Asiri in front of a video still of the late Amir of AQAP in Saudi Arabia, 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Muqrin, who was killed in June 2004 by Saudi security forces.

The assassination was reportedly planned and executed by al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a "franchise" or affiliate of the al-Qa'ida Central (AQC), and it seems to have been driven by two motivations. First, AQAP sought vengeance against the prince because he was one of the leaders responsible for the wide-scale campaign between 2003 and 2005/2006 that succeeded in severely damaging, if not destroying, AQAP's operational infrastructure and capabilities in the kingdom. Second, AQAP, which reorganized itself in January of this year in Yemen, sought to dramatically announce its reformed and growing operational capabilities with a spectacular attack.

Prince Muhammad bin Nayyif (left) and his would-be assassin, 'Abdullah Hassan 'Asiri (right)

Gregory D. Johnsen, a doctoral student at Princeton University's Near Eastern Studies program who studies Yemen, and Thomas Hegghammer (HERE and HERE), an expert in Saudi Islamism and jihadi movements who is currently a fellow at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, have both written analysis of AQAP's motivations.

'Abdullah Hassan 'Asiri

The AQAP senior leadership, headed by its Amir (literally "prince," but here meaning "commander"), Abu Basir Nasir al-Wuhayshi*, a former secretary for AQC chief Usama bin Laden, and military commander Abu Hurayrah Qasim al-Raymi, have issued a series of statements and other media releases about the assassination attempt. The most recent release was a statement from al-Wuhayshi issued yesterday (October 4) congratulating 'Asiri's father on his son's "martyrdom."

*His name is sometimes transliterated "Abu Baseer Nasir al-Wuhayshi" or "Abu Basir Nasir al-Wahayshi."


Condolences & Congratulations to the Father of the Martyr Abu Khair Abdullah Hassan `Asiri (Abu Basir Nasir...

The release of the statement comes on the heels of three other major media releases from AQAP's media outlet, Al-Malahim (roughly "epic battles"), in the span of one month:

(1) Ma'arakat Marib, released September 8, on a battle between the Yemeni army and AQAP forces in August at Marib, a town located about three hours to the east of the capital city, Sana'a;


Watch the Video.

(2) The Descendants of Muhammad ibn Maslamah, released September 20, a video which features a statement by 'Asiri and shows him meeting with al-Wuhayshi, as well as interview footage with al-Raymi from the Ma'arakat Marib video and new footage of one of AQAP's other senior leaders, Abu Sufyan al-'Azdi al-Shihri, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee;


Watch the Video.

(3) Ghazwat al-Furqan, released September 13, a video documenting the major attack on the American embassy in Sana'a on September 18, 2008, which involved multiple kamikaze bombers and a fierce gun battle between Yemeni security forces and AQAP operatives;


Watch the Video.

The shura council of AQAP (from left): Military commander Abu Hurayrah Qasim al-Raymi, Abu Sufyan al-'Azdi al-Shihri, Amir Abu Basir Nasir al-Wuhayshi, and former field commander Abu al-Harith al-'Awfi, in a mural designed to promote a May 2009 video from Al-Malahim, From Here We Begin and at Al-Aqsa We Meet.

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