AQAP leader says America is the ‘primary enemy’

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Qasim al Raymi delivers a lecture titled “The Closer Enemy,” meaning the US. His talk is part of AQAP’s “Concepts” lecture series.

On Dec. 20, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a video featuring the group’s top leader (or emir), Qasim al Raymi. Sitting in front of a marker board, al Raymi delivers a nearly 20-minute lecture on jihad and the importance of confronting America. He claims that the US is the primary obstacle standing in the way of the jihadists’ quest to build a truly Islamic state.

Al Raymi describes the US as the “primary” and “real” enemy, because it supposedly props up the jihadists’ adversaries around the globe.

The “Americans create for us countless enemies so as to distract us from [fighting against] them, and they bring conflict to our land so that conflict stays away from their own land,” al Raymi says, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. No other party is “capable of mobilizing and inciting people other than the Americans.”

The jihadists should not think of their local battles as the only fight that matters, according to al Raymi. “We are a single ummah [community of worldwide Muslims] and we are the same people even if we are present in different locations.” If one thinks of only himself and “believes in borders,” al Raymi says, then he has “isolated” himself “from the ummah and the [wider] battle.”

As the war rages on, the jihadists should “look at the issue from the point of view of a single ummah to find out who is the real enemy,” and not from “the standpoint” of standalone battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen or elsewhere. From this perspective, al Raymi argues, it becomes clear that “the true enemy is the American.”

He claims the US has propped up Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government in Yemen, and without America’s backing Hadi’s forces would be incapable of doing any real damage to the jihadists’ cause. The “most this agent [Hadi] could do” is plant tracking devices on the jihadists’ leaders, or point to targets the Americans should strike.

Al Raymi even argues that the US is the “near enemy” because American forces are not far away. Hadi has been farther away than the Americans at times, according to AQAP’s emir.

Al Raymi was appointed as AQAP’s senior leader after his predecessor, Nasir al Wuhayshi, was killed in a US drone strike in mid-June. Several weeks later, in an audio message, al Raymi eulogized his fallen comrade and reaffirmed his allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri. But little has been heard from him since. AQAP has let other veterans speak on the organization’s behalf.

Much of al Raymi’s speech deals with themes developed by al Qaeda decades ago. He echoes Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric by identifying the Americans as the “primary enemy.”

Although al Raymi says the jihadists should focus on fighting the US, however, AQAP actually spends most of its resources fighting the Houthis, who are backed by Iran.

The Shiite Houthi rebels advanced throughout Yemen in late 2014, and eventually overthrew Hadi’s government earlier this year. Since that time, AQAP has claimed responsibility for hundreds of attacks against Houthi military and security forces. In the past, other AQAP leaders have claimed the Houthis are actually part of an Iranian-American axis that is supposedly devoted to thwarting the Sunni jihadists’ designs.

Al Raymi makes it clear that AQAP’s chief goal is to establish an Islamic state in Yemen based on the jihadists’ radical version of sharia law. However, he says the jihadists will not succeed as long as America stands in the way. Indeed, AQAP has seized territory throughout southern Yemen this year, and has begun implementing sharia law in various areas. But AQAP does not claim to rule over an emirate, or state.

The AQAP chief criticizes attempts to establish an Islamic nation “in the abode war,” before sharia law can be fully implemented. This is undoubtedly a critique of AQAP’s rivals in Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s Islamic State, which claims to rule over a “caliphate” covering large portions of Iraq and Syria even as it fights multiple actors.

“Today, we are at a stage of defensive jihad against this enemy [the Americans] that stood against the establishment of [an] Islamic state” and “stands between us and the establishment of our sharia,” al Raymi argues. “Every time it appears in an area, it comes in to fight and destroy it [an Islamic state].”

Therefore, al Raymi argues, both he and other jihadists are obligated to “eliminate this obstacle” and “direct” their weapons against America.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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