AQAP Denies Arrest of Its Hadramawt Leaders

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 4

On April 26, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a statement on its Telegram channel denying that Yemeni counter-terrorism forces had arrested any of its leaders or militants in Hadramawt province the week prior (Twitter, April 29). The statement was a response to local media reports that units from the Hadrami Elite Forces — an  United Arab Emirates (UAE)-trained and supported local force responsible for counter-terrorism operations across southern Yemen — had carried out a number of raids across the province in mid-April aimed at disrupting AQAP’s resurging activities in the region (, April 24; al-Mashareq, April 27). According to reports, commandos from the Hadrami Elite Forces supported by helicopters from the Saudi-led coalition carried out two special operations in al-Mukalla and Wadi Hadramawt. The raids resulted in the arrest of several high-profile AQAP militants, including senior leaders Ahmed Saeed Awad Barhamah and Abu Ali al-Saeri (al-Masdaronline, April 22).

Official statements indicated that Abu Ali al-Saeri, who has been wanted by the Yemeni army since 2014, is a long-standing AQAP member and one of the group’s most senior military commanders in Hadramawt province (, April 22). Likewise, Ahmed Saeed Awad Barhamah (a.k.a. the “al-Zarqawi of Yemen”) is believed to be the group’s emir in al-Mukalla, the provincial capital of Hadramawt — al-Mukalla was held by AQAP for almost one year before its recapture by UAE-backed forces in April 2016 (, April 23; The National, April 26, 2019). Reports indicate that the militants were planning attacks at various locations across Hadramawt, and a significant number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), weapons and suicide vests were seized during the raids on the group’s hideouts (Aden-tm, April 22; al-Watan, April 23). Pending the veracity of AQAP’s denial, the two raids are the latest in a series of counter-terrorism operations carried out by Yemeni forces against the group in Hadramawt, Abyan and Lahij. They came while the United States has also escalated the number of UAV strikes in Yemen since early 2017. The latest U.S. strikes took place on April 28 and 29, in Shabwa and Mar’ib province respectively, resulting in at least 7 militants being killed and bringing the overall number of drone attacks since January 2017 to 80 (al-Jazeera, April 30).

These operations aim at degrading AQAP’s operational capabilities and extensive presence across southern Yemen, a dynamic that has been greatly facilitated by AQAP’s ability to exploit to its advantage the ongoing civil war between the government of President Abu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Zaydi-Shia Houthi movement. AQAP has demonstrated a strong resiliency to the loss of its leaders and senior commanders and a proven ability to use the growing local discontent toward both the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition supporting President Hadi to expand its recruitment base and replenish its ranks with new recruits. As such, as long as the civil war in Yemen persists unabated, AQAP will continue to enjoy conditions favorable to it recovering from these losses and maintaining its position of strength in Yemen.