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Yemeni al Qaeda angles for power after bin Laden's death, source says

By Barbara Starr, CNN
  • U.S. official: "They are using the death of bin Laden ... to bolster their own image"
  • It is not clear how much loyalty the group might have to al Qaeda's "caretaker" leader
  • Saif al-Adel is al Qaeda's interim head, says a source with knowledge of the group

Washington (CNN) -- The Yemeni wing of al Qaeda is trying to position itself for greater power and influence, a sign of an evolving power struggle in the militant group since the killing of Osama bin Laden, a U.S. official told CNN Wednesday.

"They are using the death of bin Laden as a way to bolster their own image," the U.S. official told CNN. The source declined to be identified because of the sensitive intelligence information that has led to this assessment.

The move by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, comes as the core of al Qaeda named a "caretaker" leader to replace bin Laden. CNN contributor Peter Bergen reported that Saif al-Adel, who was once an Egyptian special forces officer, has been chosen by a council, according to a source with detailed knowledge of the group's inner workings.

But al Qaeda affiliates such as AQAP have yet to swear loyalty to al-Adel. The U.S. official said there are already indications AQAP is sending messages and issuing statements using bin Laden's death as a rallying cry to seek money, recruits and any resources it can get. AQAP is headquartered in Yemen.

"They are definitely trying to take advantage of the situation," the official said. "They are certainly trying to find a way to make lemonade out of lemon." The official noted that bin Laden was viewed as the 'inspiration" for AQAP attacks, and it is not certain how much loyalty the group might have to any new al Qaeda leader.

The United States has long felt that AQAP is a growing threat. One of its leaders, the American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, has inspired attacks against the United States.

"They are clearly trying to improve their capabilities," as they were even before bin Laden's death, the official said. He noted the death of bin Laden, coming on the heels of the growing civil unrest in Yemen, gives the group the opportunity to both bolster its image and operate more freely.

"We have seen a steady progression of al Qaeda presence in Yemen and efforts by them to organize and become more efficient," the official said.