Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen took the initiative to plan an attack that triggered a security alert across dozens of US missions in the Middle East, it was reported on Thursday.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal citing an anonymous US official, the leader of the extremist group’s Yemeni wing, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, masterminded the plot.
Previous reports have said that Al-Wuhayshi was ordered to go on the offensive by Al Qaeda’s overall leader, the late Osama Bin Laden’s former number two Ayman al-Zawahiri.
But the official who briefed the journal said that an intercepted communication had shown that Zawahiri merely approved an operation that had been drawn up in Yemen.
“Zawahiri’s giving his blessing for a plot is very different from ordering that plot or being able to launch a 9/11-style attack,” the official said, according to the report.
If confirmed, the idea that Al-Zawahiri played a passive role in the plot will lend weight to US President Barack Obama’s claim that so-called “core Al Qaeda” is on the ropes.
But it will also feed fears that regional Al Qaeda franchises, such as Al-Wuhayshi’s Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are becoming major threats in their own right.
It had previously been reported that in the communications, which were intercepted by US intelligence, Al-Zawahiri named Al-Wuhaysi as operational controller of all Al Qaeda groups.
According to Yemeni officials that his group planned to storm a Western-run oil terminal and seize a port city.
US officials have not said what they think the targets were, but they closed 19 embassies and diplomatic missions in the Muslim world until at least the end of the week.
Yemeni officials believe they have foiled the plot, and there have been several reported US drone strikes this week.
The latest trio of strikes on Thursday killed 12 Al Qaeda militants, according to a Yemeni military official and tribal sources. AFP