For Al-Qaida In Yemen, Targeting U.S. Is Personal Al-Qaida's arm in Yemen, known as AQAP, seems motivated beyond the usual al-Qaida grievances of U.S. soldiers in Muslim lands or America's foreign policy. For AQAP, it's more personal, analysts say, in part because many of its operatives are former Guantanamo detainees.
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For Al-Qaida In Yemen, Targeting U.S. Is Personal

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For Al-Qaida In Yemen, Targeting U.S. Is Personal

For Al-Qaida In Yemen, Targeting U.S. Is Personal

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And now to what has happened to some other former Guantanamo prisoners -detainees who have been released including Yemen and Saudi Arabia. A good number of them have ended up joining the ranks of al-Qaida's branch in Yemen. It's called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The group was behind the Christmas Day airline bombing attempt last year and the cargo bomb plot last month. Both those plots aimed for American targets.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston explores whether this al-Qaida branch is targeting America because of its members' experiences with America.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Read down al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's membership roster and it's full of people who were either held at Guantanamo or have a long term connection to America. The list includes the brother of the group's leader, AQAP's second in command, its operations chief, its top theologian. They all spent time at Guantanamo.

Then there are the group's high profile American members: radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and propagandist Samir Kahn. Analysts say they think personal experiences with the U.S. have had a profound effect on the group.

Professor BRUCE HOFFMAN (Georgetown University): The struggle for them has become personal.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Bruce Hoffman is in charge of security studies at Georgetown University.

Prof. HOFFMAN: It's not just the political goal of harming or damaging an enemy, but it's the enormous personal self-satisfaction that that sort of act enables the perpetrator to derive.

TEMPLE-RASTON: For former Guantanamo detainees and angry expatriates, the battle against America isn't just theoretical, it's visceral.

Mr. RICK NELSON (Terrorism Expert, Center for Strategic and International Studies): You know, Osama bin Laden had very philosophical goals with his movement, the original movements of al-Qaida.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Rick Nelson is a terrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. NELSON: He didn't really have a personal grudge against the United States. He held something against U.S. and Western policies. What you're seeing with some of the affiliates, and particularly with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, their operations are based more out of personal nature, personal vendetta, more than it is out of the more - the greater al-Qaida narrative.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Some former Guantanamo detainees have created their own narrative.

Mr. MOAZZAM BEGG (Former Guantanamo Bay Detainee): I can tell you, I penned a poem in Guantanamo Bay called "Indictment USA."

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's former detainee Moazzam Begg. Just this week, he was among the former Guantanamo prisoners to whom the British government promised compensation. In an interview with NPR last year, he recited a poem that offers a glimpse of how someone in his position might see America.

Mr. BEGG: The last verses are like this: They suffered an atrocity and want us all to pay, but I wish no proximity to such a USA. Vulgarity is not my style, but still I have to say, this occasion caused me to revile, so [bleep] the USA.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is filled with people who share Begg's experience and perhaps his anger toward the U.S.

Then there's a second group influencing al-Qaida's arm in Yemen - its American members. Radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki left the U.S. in 2002 and was arrested in Yemen four years later. He blames the U.S.

Mr. ANWAR AL-AWLAKI (Radical Cleric): For the first nine months I was in solitary confinement in an underground cell.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's how Awlaki in a telephone interview with Moazzam Begg in 2007, shortly after he was released.

Mr. AL-AWLAKI: No interaction with any other prisoner was allowed for the entire nine months.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Then there's another American, a 25-year-old named Samir Kahn from North Carolina. He never went to prison, but showed a dislike for the U.S. before he ever joined AQAP.

Mr. SAMIR KAHN: They are disbelievers if they don't accept Islam, and if they die upon that, they're the people of hellfire and I have no concern for them.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Kahn is now believed to be the editor of AQAP's English language magazine Inspire. Its second issue came out in October. On page 51 is a photograph of the Chicago skyline with no explanation. Less than a month later, AQAP sent two explosive-laden packages on cargo planes to the U.S. Their destination: Chicago.

The photo may have been a clue dangled on a string for U.S. intelligence officials to puzzle out, a dig they would understand after the fact.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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