This paper traces development of terror organizations in Yemen, starting with the appearance of the jihadist group named Arab Afghans, the creation of the Al-Qaeda Organization that later combined the two organizations in Yemen and Saudi Arabia under Al-Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP] and finally the emergence of the bloody version under the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant [ISIL].
The AQAP is more dynamic and it was ensued from cross-pollination, its possession of capacities and training instruments and its resilience to attract popular harbor. These features entitled the organization to overcome several mistakes committed by Al-Qaeda branches in other countries such as Iraq and Syria.
The paper highlights also the formation of the ISIL that never found a popular support across Yemen because of its sectarian-sorting approach, using terrorizing methods in combating foes. Such traits are not socially accepted by wide percentage of the Yemenis that made the ISIL rejected and wicked even by the AQAP in Yemen.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, most of the Arab "Mujahideen" returned to their countries, but their governments received them with security and intelligence apparatuses. Many of them were sent to cells and prisons. They were chased, kidnapped, and arrested without any charge only because they were (the Arab Afghans) who left their countries, with encouragement from their countries, to fight the American enemy at that time, the Soviet Union.
In Yemen, during the rule of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and in Saudi Arabia, the returnees from Afghanistan were received in a climate of security precautions, but only after September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 in the United States, the security precautions were intensified.
In this study, the origins of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were divided into the most important stages, before the integration, that is between 1997 and 2009, and after the integration, after 2009; in addition to the stage of the emergence of the Islamic state organization “Da'esh” following the revolutions of the Arab Spring 2011.
First: Before the integration stage (between nineties and 2009)
- A. In Saudi (Al-Qaeda in the county of the two holy mosques):
The planning for the organization started early with the start of the attack on the Arab Afghans in the second half of the nineties. It declared itself in the late 1990s, but it did not start operations until 2003, after it could establish training camps to accommodate those who joined it, but the blows that were led by the former Crown Prince, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, were enough to end it within six years. Most of the organization’s leaders and members relocated in Yemen that was suffering an ongoing deterioration of security and large breaking down as many areas had become out the control of the central state.
It was notable that the organization’s military operations started before the announcement of the Al-Qaeda in Saudi, including a car bomb attack on the Saudi National Guard Administration that killed six people, including five Americans, in February 1995; as well as the launch of a fierce truck bomb attack on a US military base in Khobar that killed 19 people and wounded 500 in June 1996. Armed militants also attacked the US Consulate in Jeddah and killed five staff().
The founder of the organization, the global jihadist Osama bin Laden(), assigned the task of establishing the organization in Saudi Arabia to Yusuf al-Eyeri, nicknamed as "Al-Batar," after his release from prison in 1998. The cells of the organization were formed at the beginning from two categories():
First: Those who had been trained in Afghan camps and participated in the fighting.
Second: Those who did not carry weapons yet, and were unable to visit Afghanistan at all.
The commanders of the Jihadist groups made themselves free to train the second category militarily. The training sites were located in the valleys and outland areas.
The organization was divided into several committees, including Al-Shariah committee, the media committee, the finance committee and the military committee that was responsible for dividing the organization into brigades and battalions. A large group of those jihadists participated in attacks against US forces in Iraq after 2003.
It seems that Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia has adopted a "unitary" jihadist doctrine that calls for the unity of the nation to "confront the American extremism and US attacks on the Muslim world" - according to its literature and media outlets. This doctrine has led thousands of Saudi fighters to go to fight in Asian and European countries in the 1980s and in the mid-1990s, such as Chechnya, Afghanistan and Bosnia. This had a negative reflection after some of them had returned to their origin countries. For example, in Saudi Arabia, there was “Buraidah Uprising”() in the autumn of 1994 and continued until mid-1995. More than 110 members of an organization called the Reform Movement, London-based opponent of the Saudi regime and its leaders, were arrested.
This uprising represented an important turning point in the history of the "jihadists" in Saudi Arabia where the followers of the Buraidah uprising believed that change by peaceful means is futile and that change by force in the Islamic countries has become a duty(). This is what the jihad organizations had benefited from as the violence that followed the events of Buraidah uprising had targeted the government officials and institutions of a civil nature. The campaign that was launched by the organization after 2003 had targeted Saudi security headquarters or headquarters of US forces in the Kingdom, in addition to some violence actions that targeted civilians. The organization published an astonishing number documents between 2003 and 2004, making Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia one of the most violent groups that documented its activities().
As a result of the so-called "Jihad in Iraq", the fighting against US forces and the fragmentation of the local movement, and weakening it through the Saudi military campaign against terrorism, al-Qaeda in the two Holy Mosques came to end quickly before the Saudi classic jihadists revive and re-declare their integration with al-Qaeda in Yemen in 2009 under the name (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula).
B- Al-Qaeda in Yemen
Before Osama bin Laden announced the establishment of al-Qaeda under the so-called the Global Front for Fighting Jews and Crusaders in November 1998, Yemen witnessed the establishment of the first organized jihadi group in mid-1997, led by Abu Hassan al-Mehddar() under the name “Abyan-Aden Islamic army” that later announced its recognition of al-Qaeda's leadership and carried out the kidnapping of 16 Western tourists on December 28, 1998. Four abductees were killed during their liberation attempt by the security forces. After the killing of Al-Mehddar, Khaled Abdul Nabi took over the leadership of the organization. He played a role in dialogue and understandings with the regime in 2003.
It is striking that after the end of the war in Afghanistan, the jihadists had early engaged in violence in Yemen. In 1992, the city of Aden witnessed attacks against hotels and tourist sites where US military personnel, who were operating in Somalia, were exist.
But the most significant operation of al-Qaeda was the targeting of the American destroyer USS Cole on October 12, 2000 off the port of Aden killing and injuring 47 American sailors, and again in a similar attack on the French oil tanker Limburg off the port of Daba in Hadramout October 6, 2002. In 2002, after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Towers in New York, a US drone killed the first leader in al-Qaeda Abu Ali al-Harithy(
After the beginning of the intellectual dialogue between the Yemeni government and al-Qaeda in 2003, the organization's attacks decreased and then returned to target oil facilities in conjunction with the presidential elections in September 2006(). The most prominent operation maybe the attack on the US Embassy in Sana'a.
In January 2009, al-Qaeda in Yemen and Saudi Arabia announced their integration under the name of “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” and selected Yemen as the headquarters of its leadership. The most serious operation was the attempt to target Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz (former Crown Prince), who was responsible for the file of terrorism in the Saudi Interior Ministry at the time.
Second Stage: After the integration (2009 until now)
The targeting of Mohammed bin Nayef ()represented another title of al-Qaeda organization in its new integration as the unification of the efforts of the two groups (in Saudi and Yemen) helped to develop and double its capacity. Yemen, with its geographical nature and its fragile governance, represented a fertile environment for the presence of newly born organization.
After the attempt by Nigerian youth Omar Abdul-Mutaleb to blow up a US passengers plane during a trip to Detroit on 17 December 2009 and accusing Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula of being behind the attempt, Washington carried out a military operation on 25 December 2009 that killed more than 50 civilians in Al-Majalah in Abyan. It was described by the Amnesty International as Al-Majalah massacre.
Al-Qaeda's tactics have grown up and became even more dangerous when it attempted to assassinate the British Ambassador to Yemen Timothy Torlot on April 26, 2010, as well as the attempt to send explosives in a printer to two American associations in 2010 but the explosives were stopped at Dubai airport.
Anwar al-Awlaki() who was released from the Yemeni Political Security prison after he was expelled from the United States and arrested in Britain, was accused of being the mastermind of these operations, which prompted Washington to kill him in September 2011.
The year of the Peaceful Youth Revolution in 2011 witnessed many new developments in favor of Al-Qaeda that exploited the weakness of the state and its relaxation, the manipulation of the former regime in controlling vast areas, and the announcement of the so-called Ansar al-Sharia for the establishment of an Islamic Emirate in Zanjibar in the southern governorate of Abyan and another emirate in Azan in Shabwa, in addition to presence in Hadramout and Baidha. Ansar al-Shariah was classified as one of Al-Qaeda's branches in the southern governorates(). It claimed responsibility for a series of military operations.
In an interview in April 2011, the leader in Al-Qaeda, Adel Al-Abab, called on his group of Mujahideen to fight for the establishment of Shari'a (Islamic law) in Yemen. Al-Abab preferred the name "Ansar al-Sharia" in confrontations with the local population, but he admitted that he feels that Ansar Al-Sharia is a part of al-Qaeda. He said it was part of the re-formulation of al-Qaeda in the Arab peninsula. Since then they have appeared in the southern governorates, including Abyan and Shabwa in 2011, and declared their emirate "Waqar" (the name was changed from Jaar) and they did not withdraw until after a counter-attack by the government forces and popular committees with a support from the US drones in mid-2012. Al-Abab claimed that his group was related to Taliban Movement in Afghanistan and Youth Movement in Somalia(). He was killed in a strike in August in 2012().
Although the opportunity was favorable for the jihadists to take control of more governorates during the absence of the state in 2011, the movement of the peaceful change made them lose enthusiasm and the popular incubator. Many of them abandoned their arms expecting good results of the peaceful revolution, unlike the Houthi armed movement that went in two directions: imposing a situation by force as well as participating in peaceful demonstrations.
In 2012, the Yemeni army managed to defeat al-Qaeda fighters in Abyan and Shabwa. In 2013, the Yemeni army launched operations against al-Qaeda in Hadramout and Baidha. However, the organization avenged by targeting the Ministry of Defense Hospital in Sanaa in December 2013 and killed more than 50 people.
The organization reappeared more forcefully after the Saleh-Houthi coup militias took over the capital Sana'a on 21 September 2014 and extended to the southern governorates in early 2015. Sana’a invasion and the poor administration of the popular committees that expelled al-Qaeda from Jaar and Zinjibar were main factors that enabled al-Qaeda to get a popular incubator.
Al-Qaeda returned to the international forefront after the attack on the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January 2015(). However, in 2016, the Arab Coalition Forces() intervened in the anti-terrorism file in Yemen and liberated areas in Abyan and Hadramout from the control of Al-Qaeda-related Ansar al-Sharia.
After Donald Trump came to power in the United States, he gave instructions to launch military operations against al-Qaeda in Yemen, launching that by a landing operation in Yakla in Radaa district of al-Baidha governorate in January 2017().
The Importance of Yemen for Al-Qaeda Organization
Al-Qaeda has developed a vision for a strong and intensive presence in Yemen, especially after the blows against the organization by Saudi security that prompted al-Qaeda members in the kingdom to move to Yemen, as follows():
- Yemen represents an environment where geography and demography cross together to create cells of insurgencies with a high survivability.
- The instability in Yemen before and after the end of the rule of the ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and despite the rejection of all factions of the Southern Movement all offers by Nasser al-Wahishi to make an alliance between al-Qaeda and the Southern Movement() through an audio recording broadcast on 13 May 2009; the conflict between the Southern Movement and the central government has provided a conducive environment for Al-Qaeda to extend in the southern governorates().
- Yemen is located in a central focal area, which poses a serious threat to the security of regional and international powers.
- The ability to expand horizontally by employing the tribal factor in Yemen and Saudi Arabia that would provide al-Qaeda with more supporters and expand the number of martyrdom seekers.
- The organization depends on a Hadith, which some see as a weak Hadith, mentions the Abyan-Aden army() so Al-Qaeda believes in the importance and sanctity of the presence in that part of the earth.
- According to the view of Al-Qaeda, the integration between the two branches of the organization in Saudi Arabia and Yemen is a way to eliminate the division and achieve the unity of the Islamic countries.
- The spoiling of religious, political and economic interests. Religiously, in the view of al-Qaeda, the dominant governments in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia are working to demolish the Islamic identity. Economically, Al-Qaeda believes that those governments, with a support from the United States, are seeking to seize the resources of the region which has the largest reserves of oil in the world. Politically, the organization hostiles the Arab governments because it believes that those governments are "brokers" who are working to implement the US policies in the region.
- Observers attribute the absence of "Daesh" in Yemen like Al-Qaeda to two main reasons. First: the lack of an incubator in the tribal community because of its violent ideas; and second: Its direct confrontation with al-Qaeda.
Third: The Organization of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Daesh)
Daesh is a short name for an organization that calls itself “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”. It has adopted a more violent strategy than al-Qaeda, but in practice it is one of the darkest faces of al-Qaeda.
This organization was known after the revolutions of the Arab Spring 2011, especially after it took control of areas in Iraq and Syria, taking advantage of the war between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his opponents.
In Yemen, a clear gap emerged between al-Qaeda organization and the Yemeni branch of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which led to clashes between the two organizations.
Despite the support from the leader in the media sector of the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Mamoun Hatem to ISIL after the fall of Sana’a in the hand of the coup militias, however, he retreated before being killed in a drone strike in May 2015.
The ISIL organization plays on the sectarian and regional factors and uses the most brutal attacks. In its attempts to expand and control, Daesh launched its declared operations by bombing the mosques of Al-Badr and Al-Hashosh in Sana'a on 20 March 2015.
Daesh was not known before the Houthis and Saleh's coup forces take over the capital Sana'a on 21 September 2014. The first audio recording of people from Yafei district of Lahj governorate, south of the capital Sana'a, claiming loyalty to Daesh on 10 November 2014, almost two months after the Houthi invasion of Sana’a.
Despite numerous assassinations and suicide bombings that targeted officials and military personnel in Aden, the ISIL remained unclear and it was unable to emerge.
The year 2015 was the most prosperous year for Daesh in Yemen as it tried to prosper through exploiting the vacuum in the liberated cities of the southern Yemen.
Before the Yemeni Army, with a support from the Arab Coalition, began to chase members of Daesh in Aden and Lahj, the information indicated that the organization had more than 19 tanks, 10 of them seized after the battles with the Houthis, although Daesh did not participated in the battles, while the other nine tanks were bought from fighters in some factions of the armed Southern Movement. Every tank cost 10 million Yemeni riyals.
It is not known who leads the organization of ISIL in Yemen, but local sources pointed out to the researchers in Abaad Center for Studies that the commander of the organization in Aden called Abu Mohamed al-Adani. But what is certain is that foreign experts were specialized in training Daesh fighters on killings and assassinations and cinematography of their operations so the organization became easy for breakthroughs().
Former leader in Al-Qaeda Abu Hamza al-Zanjobari() attempted to establish a leadership to organize Daesh. He started by recording a video tape of the execution of 14 soldiers in a similar manner to the brutality of the organization of ISIL. In the beginning of 2015, al-Zanjobari tried to collect 200 members of his camp in Wadi Serf in Hadramout, but he engaged in conflict with al-Qaeda that killed about 15 of his followers, before being attacked by government forces to regain control of the area. Al-Zanjobari escaped with the remaining of his followers until he was killed in a raid by a US drone on Thursday, February 4, 2016.
Despite the failure of Daesh to establish a strong organization in Yemen, many attempts are taking place in Baidha, Aden, Abyan, Taiz, Hadhramout and Shabwa by groups, former leaders in al-Qaeda, some people who belong to jihadist groups and some personnel in security services are trying to impose a military reality under the name of Daesh to mix the cards in the liberated areas.
Al-Qaeda's position towards the Islamic State organization in Yemen
The existence of the Islamic state organization in Yemen dates back to 2014 when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said that fighters in Yemen had pledged allegiance (a formal oath of allegiance) to him. At that time, the organization of the Islamic state was rapidly expanding throughout Iraq and Syria and was at the top of its popularity among the hardline Salafis. Early in November 2014, a number of al-Qaeda operatives in the Arabian Peninsula did split from al-Qaeda and joined the Islamic State organization in Yemen.
That split was an exotic idea for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and its bases so that Al-Qaeda announced its rejection of the declaration of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a successor to the Muslims. The leader in al-Qaeda, Harith al-Nadhary, who was killed later, announced that the organization of the Islamic state was one of the Mujahideen groups but he said the declaration of Caliphate did not meet the necessary conditions yet, and therefore, according to al-Nadhary, al-Baghdadi’s declaration does not undermine the legitimacy of other Islamic groups operating in the arena. The speech appeared to be directed mainly to his supporters in Yemen before it was a response to al-Baghdadi's declaration.
The organization tried to delay the announcement of its position towards the dispute that took place between Ayman al-Zawahiri, the first man in al-Qaeda, and the organization of the Islamic state that announced the succession, but it recently announced its position to renew loyalty to al-Zawahiri and rejected the succession of al-Baghdadi.
The first operations of the Islamic state organization began in March 2015, which was an evidence of the increasing differences between the two organizations in Yemen. The so-called state of Sana'a, affiliated to the Islamic state organization, claimed responsibility for the recent bombings in Sana'a where four suicide bombers blew themselves up in Badr and al-Hashush mosques, Killing 142 people, while al-Qaeda acquitted the operation, and accused the Islamic state organization of indulgence in bloodshed.
Fighting between the Islamic state and al-Qaeda in southern governorates was another sign that al-Qaeda feels the domination of ISIL in Yemen. The Islamic state organization, in criticizing al-Qaeda in Yemen, said that it is not an adequately "Islamic" organization.
Why did the war against al-Qaeda in Yemen fail?
Under this heading, we can point to the importance of examining the reasons behind the failure of war against al-Qaeda until now, despite drone attacks and operations on the ground. Does al-Qaeda receive real and clear assistance?
You cannot answer Yes or No. The situation is much more complicated. One explanation for this situation is that since the US drone began strikes, the Yemeni government has become weaker allowing Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to take practical advantage of relatively ungoverned areas. The other explanation is that some drone attacks killed civilians, which supports al-Qaeda’s idea that that Yemen is being attacked by a foreign force, and reinforced the attractiveness of Al-Qaeda for tribes to take revenge for their killed sons().
This failure is a result of the failure of the West in realizing the way Yemenis deal with al-Qaeda. This can be explained in several points:
• The belief that the regime in Sana'a (during Saleh's term) was necessarily driven to fight terrorist groups that challenge the regime. This is part of the truth in the Western mind, but Saleh thinks in a very different perspective. In 2011, Hamoud al-Hitar, the former minister of religious endowments, who led the government-sponsored dialogue with al-Qaeda, said that "Saleh is using al-Qaeda to blackmail foreign countries to get more financial support from them." Similarly, many sources linked to Saleh told an American researcher that Saleh boasts of his control of AQAP and that the group therefore poses no serious threat().
Al-Jazeera also broadcast a documentary film of Hani Mujahid, a member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who claimed to have been an agent of the Yemeni government. Mujahid claimed that Saleh's nephew, Ammar (head of the US-funded Yemeni National Security Bureau), warned of an imminent attack by al-Qaeda on the US Embassy in Sana'a in 2008, but to no avail.
The attack killed at least 10 civilians and guards. Mujahid also claimed that Ammar Saleh provided explosives used by al-Raimi in a suicide attack on a convoy of Spanish tourists in Marib 2007. Mujahed described al-Raimi as “the founder of the National Security Bureau in Yemen" and also claimed that "many of al-Qaeda leaders were under the full control of Ali Abdullah Saleh."
• The idea of cooperation with the "corrupt" government was a bad idea. Despite the spread of al-Qaeda and its expansion within a wide public framework, a broad public opinion poll on 1005 people in March 2011 says that 86% of respondents believe that al-Qaeda is “never popular” or “somewhat” in their local areas. At the same time, 96 percent said they did not agree with the Yemeni government's cooperation with the United States. The novels that Al-Qaeda is bad, but the domestic and international politics around are worse - in fact, keeps the group alive.
• The involvement of US forces in providing assistance to the Houthis, who tried to expand in the Shafi areas of Yemen, led the population of those areas to engage in loyalty with AQAP to prevent an armed militia, who oppose them ideologically, from spreading its influence. In addition, this (Western) force is part of the local grievances that were caused by the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh, and then by the Houthis, at a time when the tribes rejected the presence of AQAP members in their villages during the period of relative calm in 2012-2013.
The Yemenis do not deny the danger of al-Qaeda or the organization of the Islamic state, but at the same time they understand this group and live with its individuals in their social environment. They are the sons of the tribes and villages, they are cousins. This is one of the reasons of the organization's survival, but at the same time the tribes appreciate the efforts of the state to keep security because when there is no state there is no sense of security. Al- Qaeda has simply succeeded in studying the characteristics of the Yemeni society while the Western regimes have failed to do so.
(()) Movements and parties / AQAP / Al Jazeera Net
(()) Ben Laden is the leader of al-Qaeda and its spiritual father was killed by an American operation.
(()) Al-Qaeda organization in Saudi Arabia, its origins and its end, Sokaina, August 2014.
(()) The literature of the organization and reformers in Saudi Arabia call it an uprising.
(()) Jihad in Saudi Arabia: The Story of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, by Thomas Hegghammer, and translation by Amin Al-Ayoubi, (2013), Arab Network for Research and Publishing, pages 113-114.
(()) Jihad in Saudi Arabia: The Story of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, written by Thomas Hegghammer, and translation by Amin al-Ayoubi, (2013) Arab Network for Research and Publishing p. 25
(()) His real name is Zain El-Abidine Abu Hassan Al-Mehdhar.
(()) An American drone flew from Djibouti and killed Abu Ali al-Harithy, his real name is Qaed Salem Taleb al-Harithy.
(()) The Brigades of Yemen’s Soldiers, Al-Qaeda branch, announced that the branch of al-Qaeda in Yemen was behind the targeting of oil facilities in each of Safer in Marib, northern Yemen, and Dhaba in Hadramout
(()) The operation was carried out by Abdullah Hassan Talie Asiri in Jeddah after he claimed to surrender himself.
(()) Anwar al-Awlaki knew, in the political security prison, Nabil al-Thahab, who was arrested by the Syrian security services over charge of attempting to travel to fight in Iraq and handed him over to the Yemeni apparatuses. The relationship developed into marriage and Al-Awlaki joined the brother of Nabil, sheikh Tariq al-Thahab, who announced his loyalty to Al-Qaeda and took over Radaa historical castle in 2012.
(()) Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)». Counter Extremism Project
(()) Al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen, Beirut Center for Middle East Studies
(()) Who is «Abu Zubair Al-Abbab» and how did an American drone assassinated him without the knowledge of the Yemeni authorities about his identity?!
(()) Voice recording for the legitimate leader in the organization Harith Al-Nadhary carries the slogan of the institution ‘Malahem’, that is attributed to Al-Qaeda
(()) Arab Gulf forces, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, announced an Arab coalition in a process called ‘decisive storm’ to restore the Yemeni state from the coup.
(()) The operation in Yakla resulted in the killing of one US soldier and civilians, including 10 women and six children.
(()) The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Ida2at website.
(()) Carnegie for Middle East, "The Political Challenge of the Southern Movement in Yemen,
(()) Listen to a voice recording published by Mareb Press
(()) The Prophet Mohamed was quoted as saying, in a controversial Hadith because of the weakness of its reference, “Twelve thousands fighters appear in Aden and Abyan and support God and His Messenger are better than the people between me and them.”
(()) ) The British newspaper, Daily Mail, published a video of an execution by the so-called "bulldozer of Daesh" who appeared in June 2014 in Iraq.
(()) His real name is Jalal Mohsen Belaidi al-Marqashi. He was the head of al-Qaeda in Abyan and was known as the Emir of Zinjibar State, founded by al-Qaeda after it took over the southern governorate of Abyan in 2011.
(()) Assisting Al Qaeda - By Sarah Phillips 30 August 2015
(()) Previous source- Sarah Phillips