Al-Qaeda supporters in Yemen
Photo: AFP
Al-Qaeda forces in Yemen
Photo: AFP

Yemen urged to take immediate action against al-Qaeda

Government hopes to thwart takeover terrorist group over country's biggest province

Al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters are poised to take control of the southeastern province of Hadramout, Yemen's largest province, French ambassador to Yemen Frank Gillette is warning.


Gillette told a press conference that he has information about impending efforts by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered the most active cell of the global terror network, to seize large swaths of land in Hadramout and control of the entire province. He urged the Yemeni authorities to confront this land-grab immediately.


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His warning came just a few days after the Interior Ministry said it foiled an al-Qaeda plot to seize control of Gail Bawazeer, one of Hadramout's largest towns, and to then declare it an Islamic emirate.


"This plot, which was doomed to fail, reflects that the terrorist group clings to its sick dreams to establish an Islamic emirate in the province, although they have failed before in Abyan, Shabwa, and Al-Beidha provinces," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.


Hadramout sources told The Media Line that the number of al-Qaeda fighters in the province has notably increased recently. The sources added that al-Qaeda fighters are moving freely inside the province's major cities including Al-Mukala, the provincial capital, taking advantage of an almost complete absence of security forces


"Indeed, al-Qaeda has significantly expanded lately and the government has chosen not to do anything to stop their expansion. The increase of al-Qaeda activities is reflected by the spread of its slogans everywhere in the province," Mubarak al-Awbakani, a retired security chief, told The Media Line. "They are plastered on the outside walls of hospitals, schools and other buildings. They have been there for a month and the government did nothing to remove them."


Yemeni political activist Nasser Baqoqas told The Media Line that the security situation in Hadramout is scary due to the security forces' absence and increasing activities by al-Qaeda elements.


"The gunmen are seen during broad daylight moving freely in their vehicles with black flags fluttering. They hold meetings, distribute flyers, and plaster posters bearing their slogans all over the area. They significantly increased their assassination of top security officials.


"The political security building in Hadramout's biggest town, Al-Shihr, which housed the intelligence body, as well as another security building there have been shut down after their top security officials were assassinated recently," Baqoqas said. "Many of the security and intelligence officials in Hadramout are hiding at home due to the assassination campaigns targeting them."


In recent months, Hadramout has witnessed the assassination of 10 of the most senior security officials in the province by gunmen suspected to be linked to al-Qaeda.


"We, (the people of Hadramout) are really concerned about this group's presence in our areas because we realize the great danger they pose to the community at all levels – economic, social, and security matters," Baqoqas said.


Al-Awbakani and Baqoqas urged the government to shoulder its responsibility and rid their home province of al-Qaeda fighters. They agreed that the lack of any government action against the fighters' activities and the expansion of areas under the fighters' control is what made them very dangerous.


"In light of the current security situation in Hadramout, I think the militants can launch attacks on police stations and army posts and seize control of major towns in a matter of minutes. This will only happen, however, if the security and army forces don't move swiftly and tackle their threat by arresting them and restricting their movements," said Al-Awbakani, an assessment Baqoqas shared.


Not everyone is so gloomy about the situation. Brigadier General Hussein Hashem Al-Hamed, the security chief of Hadramout's Deserts and Valley, said this cannot and will not happen because the security and army forces will foil such terrorist attempts.


Al-Hamed told The Media Line that the terrorist threat was exaggerated by the media, and discounted al-Qaeda’s prospects of seizing control of major towns in Hadramout.


"We took all necessary measurers to foil any terrorist attacks," he said. But Al-Hamed admitted that there are many security challenges in the province, including the increasing threat of al-Qaeda due to the current political crisis


"What have encouraged al-Qaeda to step up its activities are the current political conflicts among all factions. Not only do al-Qaeda operatives exist here, but many other armed groups as well," Al-Hamed said. He was referring to gunmen from the Southern Movement, a group calling for the outright independence of South Yemen. Recently the group's supporters started taking up arms in their struggle for independence.


Asked about the assassinations of security officials, Al-Hamed said: "Yes there are increasing assassinations and the slogans of al-Qaeda and other groups are everywhere. The security situation is complex but will never reach the point where these elements are able to take control of areas and towns."


While many inside and outside Hadramout are worried the al-Qaeda-linked groups could quickly take over the entire province, some political analysts also completely rule out such a possibility.


Saeed Obaid, chairman of the Al-Jahmi Center for studies based in Sana'a and an expert on al-Qaeda affairs in Yemen, told The Media Line, "I don't think that al-Qaeda could take control of towns in Hadramout because this province has different characteristics and is nothing like the towns that the militants group seized before…It's different from all other Yemeni provinces.


"The people of Hadramout are well-known for being civilized, renouncing violence, and most importantly they have adopted a modern version of the Sunni sect of Islam," he argued. The environment there is not suitable for al-Qaeda to thrive and establish an Islamic emirate," he told The Media Line.


al-Qaeda took advantage of the unrest in Yemen in 2001 triggered by the Arab Spring protests that swept the country calling for an end to the 33-year rule of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.


After almost a year of al-Qaeda control over the southern towns, however, Yemeni army troops aided by US advisors and the Americans' drone strikes managed to retake them and drive the al-Qaeda fighters out in May of 2012.


The current political crisis stems from increasing calls for the outright independence of south Yemen.


The Yemen Arab Republic (known as North Yemen) and South Yemen (formerly known as the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen) were two independent states, merging to form the Republic of Yemen in 1990. Four years later, however, South Yemen leader Ali Salim Al-Baidh announced the south was seceding, sparking a four-month civil war eventually won by the northern forces.


In 2007, calls for an independent south Yemen were revived and gained popularity among southerners. Complaining of economic and political discrimination, many in south Yemen have shown their discontent with the current integrated system of government.


They complain that their natural resources are being drained away by the northern government and they are deprived of any profits from them, particularly Yemen's oil, most of which was found in the south. They also claim that they are not given key positions when it comes to civil service jobs.


Article written by Abdurrahman Shamlan


Reprinted with permission from The Media Line



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פרסום ראשון: 06.03.13, 19:46
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