Al Qaeda in Yemen alienates local jihaddists
Local jihaddists in Abyan, Yemen are fighting their former allies, al Qaeda militants from other countries and other Yemeni provinces, for control of Ja’ar City. The combined group, which calls itself “Ansar al Shariah,” has been in control of areas of Abyan since May when the military withdrew.
Clashes between local jihaddists and al Qaeda erupted Monday morning, al Teef reported. The local militants’ commander, Abullatif Al Sayed, tried to expel the non-resident terrorists who had earlier joined their operations for control of the province. Many came from Marib and are linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The gun battle that ensued raged for hours and the number of casualties is unknown.
Al Sayed objected to the “vast destruction” and “looting” that the AQAP members inflicted on the city.
In May, President Saleh warned of an al Qaeda take over if he was removed from power. Days later military units withdrew from Abyan, leaving behind a vast cache of weapons. Extremists from across the country moved in to seize control of the capital Zinjibar and other cities including Ja’ar, using the state’s abandoned arms. The group branded itself as Ansar al Sharia, and declared the establishment of an Islamic Emirate.
AQAP touted the battles in Abyan in the last issue of its magazine, Inspire, and noted the deaths of long time jihaddists Ali Abdullah al Harithi and Ammar al Waeli in a June 3rd US air strike in Znijibar.
The 25th Mechanized Brigade, stationed near Zinjibar, was ordered by the Defense Ministry to surrender twice but refused. The Yemeni military made no progress against the insurgents for two months.
Yemen’s US trained elite counter-terror units were not deployed against the terrorists in Abyan but against unarmed youthful revolutionaries across the nation. Millions of Yemenis have been protesting since February for the removal of the entire Saleh regime and the establishment of a transitional council. Opposition parties said the council will be announced on August 17.
As a result of the stalemate in Abyan and the devastating humanitarian crisis that unfolded—100,000 residents fled the fighting—an estimated 1600 tribesmen joined in support of the 25th Mechanized to engage the militants. The ad hoc force wrested control of Lauder and parts of Zinjibar from the jihaddists. In July, Yemen’s Air Force “accidentally” bombed the tribesmen, killing nine along with two military commanders.
The stance of the local tribesmen against the jihaddist forces exacerbated the divisions among them, SaadaAden website noted. The local jihaddists accused AQAP of creating “overwhelming discontent” among the population in “a war without limits.”
The local jihaddists, as distinct from al Qaeda, have no transnational coordination, support or goals and never pledged loyalty to any external entity or person (except President Saleh). This group first emerged as the Aden Abyan Islamic Army in the 1990’s and long aspired to an Islamic Emirate in Abyan. The group tried to impose a Taliban style government and murdered four suspected homosexuals when they were last in control of Ja’ar in 2009. At that time, they called themselves Jamaat al Jihad or the Jihad group.
However leader Khalidabdul al Nabi’s call for an Islamic Emirate in December 2009 produced some skepticism as he has had a long, mutually beneficial relationship with the state and bounces between playing the terrorist villain and reformed jihaddist as needed by Saleh.