Is Al Qaeda’s Yemen plot actually about preventing the group from splitting apart?

For Zawahiri, then, perhaps reinvigorating the Yemen-based AQAP as the flagship brand with a spectacular attack might help to balance out this division and could grant him greater legitimacy as al-Qaeda’s preeminent leader, perhaps preventing a split. In such a physically dispersed organization unified largely by ideology, surely perception and prestige matter a great deal in who decides to follow whom.

For Zawahiri, merely the appearance of ordering a big operation could help him with internal al-Qaeda politics. “Now the leader of the most consequential affiliate has an intimate command role in the overall organization,” terrorism analyst Bruce Hoffman told the Post. “From Zawahiri’s point of view, there’s no better exemplar of the Qaeda brand than AQAP.”

Even if these internal politics weren’t a primary driver for Zawahiri in apparently ordering the attack, it’s still a reminder of the degree to which al-Qaeda’s challengers are internal, about ideology, branding, political wrangling and lines of control, not to mention the all-important funding chains.