Exploiting ongoing unrest in Southern Yemen, al-Qaeda’s leader in Yemen released an audio statement on May 13 entitled “To Our People in the South,” in support of southern Yemeni efforts to secede from Yemen. The audiotape was released through the jihadi media outlet al-Malahim (shmo5alislam.net, May 14). Various jihadi forums debated al-Qaeda’s call for a week afterwards (hanein.info, May 14).
As the Soviet bloc began to crumble in 1990, North and South Yemen (a socialist state supported by the Soviet Union) were hastily united despite a history of bitter enmity between the political structures in both parts of the country. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Sana’a regime led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh waged a war in 1994 to eliminate South Yemen’s socialists. Since that time, Yemen has witnessed waves of public unrest due to poor social and economic conditions in the south. The latest upheaval in the region was in March, when Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered his defense minister to quell the unrest in Chanffar city in the Abyan governorate (al-Arabiya TV, May 24). Most of the protests against the Yemeni regime have been led by the Southern Mobility Movement (SMM), a popular opposition movement that incorporates “civil society organizations, political parties, societies, shaykhs, dignitaries, academics, politicians, independents and others,” according to SMM leader Nasser al-Khabji (Yemen Post, March 12).
In light of this latest unrest in the south, al-Qaeda’s leader in Yemen, Nasir Abdul Kareem al-Wuhayshi (a.k.a. Abu Basir), said in an audio statement that what the Yemeni government was doing in the southern districts of Lahij, al-Dhale, Abyan and Hadramawt was unacceptable and the people of the south have every right to defy the Yemen government’s oppression, a right guaranteed by Islam. Al-Wuhayshi added, “We in al-Qaeda organization support what you are doing to reject oppression and support you against the government.” Al-Wuhayshi reminded the southerners of South Yemen’s defunct communist order and how it failed in the past, saying that only Islamic Shari’a renders justice and freedom. “A return to God’s law is the only way out of this dilemma we’re in… I warn you not to be manipulated again.”
Al-Wuhayshi also appealed to the people of South Yemen to reject all forms of political parties, an implicit call not to join the Supreme Council for the Liberation of Southern Yemen, which has been stirring up protests in the south under the leadership of the exiled former president of South Yemen, Ali Salem al-Beed. Al-Wuhayshi warns his fellow Salafists of the implications of allowing the regime of President Ali Abdallah Saleh, “an infidel apostate agent who has thrust aside the command of the Shari’a,” to continue in its support of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts. “Even the rest of our brothers in Iraq and Palestine were not safe from this regime either, as it has provisioned the U.S. battleships to kill their children and women.”
Al-Qaeda’s incitement of Yemeni separatists was discussed extensively in jihadi forums by moderate Muslims, Arab nationalists and pro-al-Qaeda Salafi-Jihadis. The latter supported al-Qaeda’s drive in southern Yemen on the pretext that the Yemeni government is arresting Salafis and preventing them from practicing their beliefs in mosques because Salafism is unacceptable to the United States.
Al-Qaeda claims Salafis are not supporting dissension, but are instead trying to help the oppressed southerners and prevent them from becoming communists again. According to al-Wuhayshi, "You have experienced the socialist regime, which imposed on you a lot of suffering – only God knows its amount. Yet here you are still drinking from the same glass at the hands of the gang of the [socialist] regime, which rules you today. It is about time that Islam rules so that you enjoy its justice and tolerance. Be cautious not to be deceived once again [by socialism], or the efforts you have exerted in fighting oppression and aggression will be credited to the immoral custodians of [political] parties. Such parties gave our umma [Islamic community] nothing but disunity, subordination and submission to the enemies.”
Another al-Qaeda leader, Ghalib al-Zayidi, told a pan-Arab daily that the “mujahideen” of Yemen would not repeat the mistake they made in 1994, when they joined the regime’s campaign to destroy “the Socialist Party in defense of Yemeni unity after the government had promised them it would implement Islamic Shari’a” once the socialists had been eliminated. The regime broke its promise and “suddenly turned against the mujahideen and put them in jail. Some of them were killed and foreign mujahideen were expelled” (al-Hayat, May 23).
Observers believe al-Qaeda’s religious argument is an excuse to destabilize southern Yemen because it does not recognize international borders between Islamic States. Stable countries are not suitable for al-Qaeda’s sabotage activities. To strike at Yemen’s strong points, al-Qaeda is constantly planning terror attacks on four major targets – oil facilities, foreign embassies, foreigners and security officials. Al-Qaeda can only grow and expand in countries burdened with sectarian and tribal conflicts similar to the situation in Somalia, just a short distance from Yemen. Setting up safe havens for military training and recruiting new cadres is only possible after weakening the Yemeni government. If all goes as al-Qaeda has planned, it would control the Bab al-Mandab strait from both sides through a presence in Yemen and Somalia, enabling it to hold maritime shipping hostage. Al-Wuhayshi’s audio, ostensibly in support of the South Yemen opposition movement, is actually an attempt to exploit the situation and control the southern region because al-Qaeda would never ally itself with those who do not adhere to Salafi-Jihadism, let alone infidel communists. So far, it appears al-Qaeda efforts in Yemen are bearing fruit in the sense that it has made successful penetrations of the Yemeni security apparatus (al-Faloja.info, March 29).
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