Al-Qaeda Is Already Exploiting Trump's Hawkish Foreign Policy to Help Recruit

Extremists are using the Trump administration's bloody raid in Yemen for propaganda purposes.

Photo Credit: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula propaganda outlet Al-Malahem

Al-Qaeda's most extreme branch is using the Trump administration's bloody first military raid in order to recruit more fighters. The leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen, released an audio recording in which he called President Trump a "fool," according to the Associated Press.

"The White House's new fool has received a painful blow at your hands in his first outing on your land," proclaimed Qassim al-Rimi, the head of the extremist group.

Al-Rimi said the U.S. raid killed 25 people, including 11 women and children. (Media reports claim even higher numbers of casualties.) The U.S. government identified a Navy SEAL who lost his life, William Ryan Owens, and al-Rimi claimed more were wounded or killed.

Among the civilian victims was 8-year-old Nawar al-Awlaki, the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and extremist propagandist with links to al-Qaeda who was killed in an Obama administration drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Anwar al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, who was also a U.S. citizen, was killed in a drone attack two weeks after his father.

The Trump administration's first raid "caused more anger and hatred toward America," explained a Yemeni government employee quoted in the Chicago Tribune. "America has no right to carry out any military action in our country," he added. "This is a serious violation for our country's sovereignty and is totally unacceptable."

The attack has fueled anger at the U.S. throughout Yemen,  where for nearly two years, the U.S. has supported a destructive Saudi bombing campaign that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people and plunged the poorest country in the Middle East into famine.

This catastrophic U.S.-backed war has likewise amounted to a shot of adrenaline for AQAP, empowering and enrichening it after a 14-year covert U.S. drone war against the extremist group. The Trump administration, with its extreme anti-Muslim prejudices, has only continued to ramp up military intervention in Yemen, in alliance with Saudi Arabia.

AQAP is widely recognized as one of the most dangerous affiliates of the global Salafi jihadist organization. It claimed credit for the January 2015 attack on the office of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The latest AQAP propaganda audio recording is just one of the many ways in which the U.S.'s so-called war on terror has actually helped strengthen the extremist groups it purports to be fighting. Al-Qaeda has long openly used U.S. military atrocities for recruitment purposes. It taps into widespread anger at bellicose American foreign policy to attract militants to its violent sectarian cause.

In the September 2011 issue of its propaganda magazine Inspire, AQAP acknowledged, "America's subtle hatred for Islam drastically helps us." (This is reminiscent of ISIS propaganda in which the genocidal group explicitly says it hopes to destroy the "Grayzone," or space in which Muslims are accepted in Western societies.)

The Inspire issue marked the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which it described as "the greatest operation in the history of mankind." AQAP rejoiced at how the multi-trillion-dollar costs of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have exacerbated the government deficit and hurt the American economy. The extremist group also boasted that U.S. wars in the Middle East had essentially played into the hands of al-Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden. Its magazine quoted Michael Scheuer, a former CIA intelligence officer turned staunch critic of the war on terror, who recalled, "Basically Bin Ladin said jump and Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney said how high?"

Anti-Iranian sentiment and sectarian bigotry against the Shia sect of Islam also pervades AQAP's propaganda. The Trump administration has ramped up tension against Shia-majority Iran, Sunni extremists' biggest enemy, and is pushing for war with the major Middle Eastern power.

A hyper-belligerent U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, like that of former President George W. Bush, threatens to further strengthen Salafi jihadist groups in the region. President Trump has made every indication that he will continue down this path.


Ben Norton is a reporter for AlterNet's Grayzone Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.


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