Al-Qaeda project inside Yemen!

Islamic Caliphate is false and what is built on falsehood is false.”

This comment was not addressed by one of the parties in the Global Coalition against ISIS, but it was posed by the leader  of Al-Qaeda in Hadramout Khalid Baterfi[1] during the occupation of al-Mukalla city in 2015, which implies  that there was no intention for Ansar al-Sharia (al-Qaeda branch in Mukalla) to achieve Caliphate in the city because of two absent conditions: First, the acquiring of the land, and the second is the consensus of the Muslims!

[1] Interview with Khaled Baterfi in the Yemeni newspaper Al-Wasat 7-3-2016, weeks before the expulsion of al-Qaeda from the city of Mukalla

Al-Qaeda’s vision of Caliphate is completely different from that of ISIS. Al-Qaeda has no intention in the short term to declare the Caliphate, even after the elimination of Daesh, But at the same time it means that AQAP will continue as an organization and as a practice even after its expulsion outside the borders of the city of Mukalla.

More than three decades ago in 1980s, Al-Qaeda leaders had confirmed that “jihad to Palestine begin from Afghanistan”. A phrase that tickled the hearts of young Muslims and pushed thousands of them to join the jihad against the communists. And after the main jihad cell disintegrated and split into several cells around the world,  another saying arise although not officially documented in al-Qaeda’s theses, that the jihad of the Muslims starts from Yemen and may end in Yemen under the command of Aden’s Abyan Islamic Army.

This confirms that AQAP has a long-term vision that it is trying to achieve within Yemen. It is a project that is linked with the local community within its specific characteristic and according to its own features whether negative or positive. If it did not have this project, according to its leaders’ claims, it would had not survived for more than two and a half decades inside Yemen, Especially since the attempts to eliminate the organization began since the nineties of the last century and continued until now.

But what is the project of Al-Qaeda in Hadramout and inside Yemen in general?
If the project is to confront the  abuse of authority and the absence of social justice, it is this vision that has given al-Qaeda carte blanche to expand carefully within the fabric of the community, especially among those who suffer from oppression and injustice. It opened the door for recruitment among unemployed youth within these extremist organizations.

After the war of 2015, the plan turned into confronting the Houthis after their attacks on the Salafist stronghold in Damaj. Al-Qaeda discarded the deployment of social grievance and instead chose the deployment of religious grievance in an attempt to win the Sunnis and their various sects inside Yemen.

But the unified Sunni front was disrupted by the wide ideological difference between the various factions after the expulsion of the Houthis- Saleh forces from Aden to highlight the profound difference between Al-Qaeda and the Salafi groups inside Aden. The Salafists themselves were divided into more than one group.

At that time AlQaeda affiliates began to adopt their own path inside Aden and that was a big mistake for them!

They started to resemble criminal gangs whether in confronting the government forces or in their maneuvers to survive, which made it easy to get rid of them.

 

In Mukallah, the organization adopted a different scheme that did not focus on the Houthi, but it started to build a form of local government through forming different committees under the pretext of providing the needs of citizens. And even that vision of Al-Qaeda failed to materialize because of the resistance of the local community to respond to the goals of the organization, the lack of clear plans of action within the city , the weak of its financial, administrative and organizational capabilities and the lack of support and advocacy by the citizens themselves, which paved the way to eliminate Al-Qaeda militarily.

But military defeat does not mean the end of AQAP in Hadramout and inside Yemen in general. Al-Qaeda has not yet surrendered!

The Yemeni government’s efforts to confront Al-Qaeda in Yemen since the first terrorist operation in 1998 led by Walid al-Mihdhar, during which a group of foreign tourists were killed and followed by an attack on the Cole 2001, which resulted in the deaths of 17 US soldiers, these efforts lacked the strategic long-term vision and were based mainly on individual orientations led by leaderships in the Authority, whether former President Ali Saleh or the current president Abderbo Hadi.

The  confrontations with al-Qaeda are basically military confrontation and even the programs and plans that were developed to face Al-Qaeda were just ink on paper and did not find its way to actual implementation. That  may leave the door open so far for al-Qaeda to recruit young people in various ways, especially with the continued financial crisis among the youth as a result of poverty and the deterioration of security, and finally the prevalence of unemployment.

The conflict between the different parties in the legitimate authority itself has been blatantly exploited by al-Qaeda as a mean  to attack or compromise. In the same way, this conflict has been an entry point for the different forces to exploit Al-Qaeda itself.

Al-Qaeda had managed to take advantage of the conflicts among members of authorities in Yemen since the unification 1990 either through the launching of terrorist operations or through the occupation of specific areas, as happened in Zanzibar, Abyan and Mukalla.

In order to eliminate Al Qaeda in Yemen, it is necessary to find a solution to the endless struggle over power in Yemen.

What should be kept in mind here is that the disappearance of the first row of leadership in the organization does not mean the defeat of the organization, but the transfer of power to the second row in an organized and spontaneous manner. This may apply to Hadramout, Abyan, and AlBeidha after the killing of a number of leaders, Harith Al-Nazari, Nasser Al-Ansi, Muhannad Ghalab, Fahad Al-Qusa’a and Nasser Al-Wehaishi. Although there is still ambiguity in the way the sub-leadership is organized within the regions or governorates of Yemen.

Qasim al-Raimi may have replaced Al-Wahishi as a military leader in the organization in Yemen as a whole, but Khaled Baterfi is the leader of the organization in Mukalla. This may reflect that there is considerable concern not to leave the leadership position empty so as not to lead to the disintegration of the organization or imbalance of direction. But the distribution of leadership has certainly been exposed to changes away from the directions of first level leadership represented by Zawahiri, and that certainly contributed to the weakening of the organization in recent years within Yemen.

 

It should also be borne in mind that the organization is still struggling to prove its united front not only in Yemen, but globally. There was a tear in the external image as a result of reproduction of undesirable groups not recognized by the organization itself, or the appointment of leaders who are not approved by the senior leadership, or embracing entities that contradict completely with the main ideology that was launched inside Afghanistan by the spiritual father bin Laden. The latter factor is the most significant threat to end the organization gradually.

Therefore, we should not be surprised by the constant contact between AL Qaeda in Yemen and AL Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in Mali, or Al Shabab in Somalia. There is a strong desire among the founders to bring together the different factions of Al-Qaeda and to reformulate the agendas on a unified one, especially after the sharp decline of ISIS and the disintegration of its military and civilian fronts in both Iraq and Syria.

Haifa AlMaashi, 17 September 2017

[1] Interview with Khaled Baterfi in the Yemeni newspaper Al-Wasat 7-3-2016, weeks before the expulsion of al-Qaeda from the city of Mukalla