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Yemen's Al Qaeda Branch Renaming Itself For Public Relations Makeover


"The name...seems to have negative connotations and baggage."

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is trying to change its image in order to drop some of the "baggage" the group has acquired from its associations with Anwar Awlaki, the "Underwear Bomber" Farouk Abdulmutallab," and other terrorists.

The first stage of the change revolves around the name of the group, which has been been altered to reflect a broader Islamic extremist mission and help attract new recruits. As a result, the terrorist group that senior U.S. intelligence officials have called perhaps the greatest operational threat to the United States goes by a new name, which according to Fox News is now,  "Ansar al Sharia."

The name reporteldy means "Army of Islamic Law."

"After (Usama) Bin Laden's death and the Arab Spring," Fox reports, "the name (al Qaeda) seems to have negative connotations and baggage."

Fox News also claimed that the number of Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen is around a thousand-- which is four times the estimated number of active fighters in Pakistan.

Given the high profile of the group, it appears the name change may be more directed at western audiences than the Islamic recruits AQAP hopes to attract. In the past, AQAP had gathered youth from around the world looking to wage Jihad, but that reputation also brought robust U.S. counterterrorism resources to bear, including press reports about military drone strikes.

Oddly enough, in an era of shrinking national defense budgets, it could be a viable strategy for the embattled AQAP to muddy the waters for the western press while "Ansar Al Sharia" regroups, refits, and plans its next devastating attack.

The group is also undergoing a shift in strategic focus towards the so-called near enemy -- in this case, the government of Yemen -- than the far enemy, which is the West. This change has been mirrored by other Al Qaeda outposts, including in Somalia and for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which are engaged mostly in regional plotting and creation of para-state organizations.

To this end, Fox News claims that U.S. officials have acknowledged that Yemen appears to be moving in the same direction, stating that:

"Al Qaeda in Yemen, which was behind the last two major plots targeting the U.S. airline industry, including Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber in 2009, is "digging in and internally focused" as it tries to establish a safe haven in the Abyan and Shabwa provinces."

As AQAP -- or "Ansar al Sharia" -- changes its name and even its strategy, the national security community should remains aware of the international Jihadist threat emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.

When Fox quoted a diplomat saying of AQAP that "It is like shooting fish in a barrel," it remained unclear  just who was the fish, and who was doing the shooting. As the Yemeni government teeters on the brink of collapse, that dynamic is likely to continue.

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