Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula hosts large rally in Mukallah

A media group run by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has released dozens of new images from the city of Mukallah, the capital of Yemen’s eastern province of Hadramout. The city fell to the group in early April 2015. The photos, seen below, show the jihadists hosting a large rally, which they used to proselytize and recruit.

As The Long War Journal previously reported, AQAP opened a new Twitter feed for Al Ather “news” agency in January. The feed is intended to advertise Ansar al Sharia’s governance, enforcement of sharia law, and other activities in the populated areas that have fallen under the jihadists’ control since last year. Ansar al Sharia is simply a brand used by AQAP to market itself to the local population. By portraying themselves as the defenders of sharia law, AQAP’s leaders and members hope to woo more Muslims to their cause.

On Jan. 23, Al Ather “news” agency began publishing photos and videos of Ansar al Sharia’s supposed good works. The AQAP propaganda arm has continued to produce high-quality content since then, including the photos of the gathering in Mukallah.

It is widely believed that al Qaeda is a terrorist organization myopically focused on high-profile attacks in the West. But al Qaeda, like the Islamic State, is more than a terrorist group. Al Qaeda’s regional branches focus most of their efforts on waging insurgencies throughout Africa and the Middle East. And they need to build at least some popular support to be successful.

The images released out of Mukallah are now commonplace. Similar types of events have been held in Libya, Syria and elsewhere. Al Qaeda’s goal is to inculcate its radical ideology in the population. It uses events such as the one in Mukallah to convince a new generation of believers that it represents them and Islam. Of course, most Muslims disagree. But AQAP is using its new proto-state in southern Yemen to raise a new generation of jihadists who share al Qaeda’s beliefs. This is one of the reasons why Western countries and their allies find themselves fighting a long war, albeit one that is often misunderstood.

Below are 30 images released by Al Ather from the event in Mukallah, which began earlier this month and lasted at least two days. Two of the photos show Khalid al Batarfi, an al Qaeda veteran freed from a Yemeni jail last year, delivering a talk on a widescreen. The words “O Aqsa, We Are Coming,” a reference to Jerusalem, can be seen on the al Qaeda banner on the main stage.

1 Ansar al Sharia event

2 Ansar al Sharia event

As can be seen in the next two photos, Khalid al Batarfi, an al Qaeda veteran, delivered a lecture on a widescreen at the rally:

3 Ansar al Sharia event (Khalid al Batarfi)

4 Ansar al Sharia event (Khalid al Batarfi 2)

5 Ansar al Sharia event

6 Ansar al Sharia event

7 Ansar al Sharia event

8 Ansar al Sharia event

9 Ansar al Sharia event

10 Ansar al Sharia event

11 Ansar al Sharia event

12 Ansar al Sharia event

13 Ansar al Sharia event

The words “A Aqsa, We Are Coming” can be clearly seen on the banner on the main stage:

14 Ansar al Sharia event

15 Ansar al Sharia event

16 Ansar al Sharia event

17 Ansar al Sharia event

18 Ansar al Sharia event

19 Ansar al Sharia event

20 Ansar al Sharia event

21 Ansar al Sharia event

22 Ansar al Sharia event

23 Ansar al Sharia event

24 Ansar al Sharia event

25 Ansar al Sharia event

26 Ansar al Sharia event

27 Ansar al Sharia event

28 Ansar al Sharia event

29 Ansar al Sharia event

30 Ansar al Sharia event

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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  • Evan says:

    Mr. Joscelyn,
    Fantastic article, thank you to you, and all at the LWJ for your information packed articles and insightful analyses.

    This type of soft power, that includes efforts such as propaganda, charitable works, proselytizing, and so on, can be extremely effective. It can, at the very least, garner tacit support amongst local populations in countries or areas where AQ either is, or plans in the future to wage violent insurgencies, with the goal of establishing themselves, as well as their extremist ideology as the new normal, the rightful rulers of the ummah, whose power and prestige was usurped by Ataturk, and lost along with the Ottoman Empire.
    That’s what I feel most in the West simply do not understand.
    This Long War is about what most wars are about, power and control, Islam is a vehicle for achieving that power and control. AQ sees themselves as the rightful rulers of a once great empire. An empire that was in fact the guardian of classical knowledge and light that was lost to the western world with the fall of Rome, i.e., the “dark ages.”
    It was only after the crusades, that some portion of that Light and Knowledge was brought back to the western world, which brought about a period of our history known as the Renaissance.

    This pendulum of power swings back and forth throughout the ages it seems, always moving, never static or stable.

    The other ill understood issue of this Long War is that it is not, and will not be like the wars we have waged against each other, relatively short, and concise.
    At the end, there’s typically a clear “winner,” and a loser.
    This war will be a multi generational one, that lasts and lasts, with no one side able to claim a clear victory. It is that way by design, and it must be understood. We must strive to learn our enemy, to extract the peculiarities of their cultures and belief systems. We must apply ourselves to this end, or I fear that we, and our way of life will be utterly annihilated.

  • Debbie says:

    Why wasn’t this targeted for a drone hit

  • Vance Shaw says:

    A question for everyone…. We Drone.. Drone… Drone and kill many people including innocents that are shielding the bad guys. And yet we don’t hit a large gathering like this? Half doz cluster bombs… POOF. Why do we allow the enemy to have these gatherings?

  • Tyler says:

    No drone strikes for a number of reasons.
    A. The audience isn’t filled with veteran jihadis. Look at the stage, they are raffling off 3 motorcycles, and who knows what else. If this was a huge gathering of AQ members, and “true believer” jihadis, then they wouldn’t need to be giving away door prizes to get people to show up.
    B. Batarfi was on a big screen for a reason. He isn’t there. It is likely pre-recorded, or possibly a live video feed from someplace else, but unlikely if he is at all security conscious. He isn’t going to stand on stage because he doesn’t want a hellfire missile to send him to the next world, and he just spend 4 yrs in prison and escaped with AQ help.

    C. You bomb a rally/ propaganda event like this, where Al Qaeda is trying to woo people, and convince others of their cause, and you have done their job for them. In addition you would be handing them a brilliant piece of propaganda to propagate their ranks in Yemen, and elsewhere. Anyone who survives, and family members of the dead wouldn’t need much convincing to pick up arms and fight for AQ…

  • Evan says:

    If they’re “shielding bad guys,”
    then they aren’t innocents.
    If they harbor terrorists, help them, attempt to hide them or protect them, they deserve to be vaporized right along side them.
    The same is true for the children being trained for war as we speak in camps all over the Middle East, operated by AQ, Al Nusrah,
    IS, TIP, and lots more.
    An AK in the hands of a trained 10 year old is no less lethal/dangerous than if it were in the hands of a trained 30 year old. Yes, it’s tragic, and sad, and I wish it weren’t this way, but it is, and the fact is that they chose this, and therefore, they must accept the consequences thereof.
    As far as why the U.S. doesn’t attack large gatherings of self proclaimed jihadists like this one outside Mukallah, or others like the large convoys of jihadists common to Syria and elsewhere, I honestly do not know, but I believe that it’s a testament in large part, to the extremely poor actionable intelligence options that the U.S. has in place on the ground in the region, as opposed to a lack of will/ability to strike.

  • Evan says:

    Also, pretty sure that “cluster bombs,” or any “cluster munitions,” are illegal under international law, and that most developed countries who attempt to abide by the treaties they sign as well as international law, have in large part, done away with those sorts of munitions.

  • Bethany says:

    One quick question. Are you under the assumption that Ansar al-Sharia and AQAP are the same thing? I know the lines are blurred, but this rally is hosted on the Ansar al-Sharia media outlets like Telegram and Twitter, not ones designated as AQAP. AQAP does have its own Twitter and Telegram outlets. Ansar al-Sharia seems to do a lot of humanitarian things to benefit the country, whereas AQAP has a different mindset, so its important to figure out who these people are and what exactly they are doing.


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