In November 2002, the United States dealt a devastating blow to Al-Qaeda in Yemen when it assassinated Abu Ali al-Harithi with a missile from a Predator drone. One year later, in November 2003, Yemeni forces arrested al-Harithi’s replacement, Muhammad al-Ahdal, on a tip from an al-Qaeda member. The two operations effectively crippled the organization, removing its head of operations and its chief financial officer. Yet, more recently, the group has been reorganizing itself and, once again, appears capable of carrying out attacks. On May 1 of this year, Al-Qaeda in Yemen told Yemeni correspondent Faysal Mukrim that it was preparing to strike certain officers within the country’s security establishment, whom it accused of using torture against al-Qaeda suspects in Yemeni prisons (al-Hayat, May 1). As proof of the seriousness of its claims, Al-Qaeda in Yemen said that it was behind the March 29 assassination of Ali Mahmud Qasaylah, the chief criminal investigator in the central Yemeni governorate of Marib (al-Hayat, May 1). The unnamed source claimed that the assassination was in retaliation for Qasaylah’s role in the attack on al-Harithi, which also occurred in Marib. Yemeni security forces denied that Qasaylah, who was transferred to Marib at the beginning of 2002, had anything to do with the operation that killed al-Harithi (al-Hayat, May 1).
Initially, al-Qaeda’s claims were met with skepticism since they came more than a month after Qasaylah was killed and they were relayed through Mukrim, who is seen as close to the government and is not often the reporter of choice for militants in the country. They also followed calls by HOOD, a local human rights organization, and the Marib branch of the Islah party for an investigation into Qasaylah’s death (al-Sawha.net, April 23; News Yemen, April 17). This led some to believe that Mukrim’s sources were overreaching in an attempt to play on the unknown. Yet, in the weeks following the al-Qaeda claims, the Ministry of the Interior announced that it was looking for three men in connection with Qasaylah’s death (https://almotamar.net/news, May 15).
Throughout mid-May, the Ministry of the Interior took out half-page ads in official newspapers, offering a reward of five million Yemeni riyals, roughly $25,000, for information leading to the capture of the three suspects: Naji Ali Salih Jardan, Ali Ali Nasir Doha and Abd al-Aziz Said Muhammad Jardan. To make matters worse for the government, the latter two suspects had been in prison from 2004-2006 on suspicion of being involved in transporting Yemenis to Iraq to fight against U.S.-led forces (News Yemen, December 24, 2005; News Yemen, March 24, 2006). Both Doha and Abd al-Aziz Said Muhammad Jardan were arrested in Yemen upon their return from Syria, where they claimed they were seeking medical treatment. Their eventual release has, as the wanted posters indicate, proven premature.
Qasaylah’s death and the subsequent claim of responsibility by Al-Qaeda in Yemen suggest that the group is reforming with the help of members trained in Iraq and is returning to settle old scores. This could prove to be a dangerous revival of the security threat in Yemen.