The Islamist militant group AQAP, better known in full as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, came into formation on January 2009. This group was formed through a unification of Yemeni and Saudi branches of the larger al-Qaeda. Analysts have consistently rated the Yemen group as the most lethal among the al-Qaeda authorization, which primarily has taken the objective of setting targets in the West while at the same time maintaining domestic insurgency (Johnson, 2012). AQAP’s tremendous rise in Yemen resulted majorly from the free environment in this country that allowed former al Qaeda network trained experts to operate.
Moreover, the AQAP leadership in this region had immense experience, since a great number of them had received extensive training from Osama bin Laden’s network as well as al Farouq training camps in Afghanistan (Price, 2013). AQAP made record for being the first al Qaeda affiliate group to attack the United States homeland on December 2009. This attack was carried out through a young Nigerian Jihadist by the name Farouk Abdulmutallab. The attack, which took place on Christmas day of that year was a failed suicide bombing attempt but brought the attention of the FBI and tightened security in Detroit (Price, 2013).
On December 25, 2009, the suspected suicide bomber planted plastic explosives in his underwear and set for the Airbus A330-323E under the operations of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Detroit, United States (Day, 2012). Should the explosive have gone off, it would have been the most lethal aviation incident in the United States. The mission failed as Farouk, the attacker, failed to detonate the explosives appropriately (Hensler, 2011). Moreover, a Dutch passenger who had been seated next to him barred and restricted by putting out the fire.
It is surprising to note that all this while, reports show that US had obtained intelligence regarding the suspicious activity around Abdulmutallab. Although US intelligence agencies knew him only by his first two names, they had received information of a planned attack by a Nigerian man based in Yemen. However, there had been no security measures taken by the United States Homeland Security agencies. The fact that Abdulmutallab had intercepted a US airline further brought sharp critic from the United States citizen, with President Barack Obama regarding the attempted bombing as “totally unacceptable.”
There were undeniable loopholes in the security right from the moment this young man was at the airport. Witnesses said that the ticket agent allowed Abdulmutallab to board the plane without a visa, citing that he was a Sudanese. This was definitely a major security flaw as only US citizens have the legal right, after authentication of their identities, to board international flights headed for the United States.
The second attempted bombing by AQAP in 2010 involved two plastic explosive packages that had been sent from Qatar Airlines in Yemen on October 27th and were scheduled for Chicago on 1st November (Day, 2012). The explosives had been planted on toner cartridges and dropped at the airline by an unknown woman. The first package passed through Dubai to Cologne, Germany and Leicestershire then finally to Philadelphia. However, on landing to Leicestershire, intelligence had leaked and explosive experts were engaged.
Assisted via the intervention of the US through provision of tracking numbers, the printers were x rayed and sniffer dogs were used (Johnson, 2012). On insistence of the US, the printer was taken apart and further tests led to revelation of the bomb. The second package had been carried with a commercial plane from Dubai was headed to Newark International Airport New Jersey. The Obama administration had undoubtedly taken swift measures in this particular attempted attack and the proper coordination among UK, US, and Germany. Further, these countries for the next one and a half month following these incidents refused to allow shipment of packaged cargo from Yemen (Hensler, 2011).
While serious security concerns were raised over the two issues, it is critical to understand that the United States Homeland Security department has in the proper centers and components to combat aviation terror attacks. Chief among them is the fusion centers which in part act as response and prevention centers for terrorist activities. These centers allow for information sharing between agencies as the CIA, the US military, and the FBI. Moreover, application of data mining components has been crucial in enabling data dissemination across airplane bases all over the world with flights headed for the US (Price, 2013).
Ultimately the US needs to take radical measures to curb further attacks on its citizens. Fundamentally, conducting thorough passenger and explosives screening encompassing a more intensive search procedure for the passengers as well as the explosives is vital (Johnson, 2012). Moreover, quick action should be taken upon release of any intelligence from credible sources. This definitely ensures that any anticipated terror activities are thoroughly examined before passengers are on board. Additionally, incorporating a visa security program which monitors and coordinates information regarding visa activity would be essential to identify terrorist activities before they get to US borderlines (Day, 2012). Finally, pre departure procedure that determines if a passenger is permissible to board commercial airlines has proved critical in enhancing secure flights.
Day, S. W. (2012). Regionalism and rebellion in Yemen: A troubled national union. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hensler, B. (2011). Crucible of fire: Nineteenth-century urban fires and the making of the modern fire service. Washington, D.C: Potomac Books.
Johnson, L. K. (2012). National security intelligence: Secret operations in defense of the democracies. Cambridge: Polity.
Price, J., & Forrest, J. (2013). Practical Aviation Security: Predicting and Preventing Future Threats. Oxford: Elsevier Science.