AQAP fighters seize control of Yemeni town, swear allegiance to Zawahiri

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Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has taken control of yet another major town in Yemen. The AQAP fighters are led by the brother-in-law of Anwar al Awlaki, and they have sworn allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda.

An AQAP force, led by Tareq al Dhahab, entered the town of Rada’a in Baydah province on Saturday night and laid siege to the police station and other government buildings, according to Reuters. Two policemen were killed in the assault.

“Al Qaeda has raised its flag over the citadel,” a resident in Rada’a told Reuters. “Its members have spread out across the town’s neighborhoods after pledging allegiance to Ayman al Zawahri during evening prayers (on Sunday).”

The AQAP fighters also freed an estimated 250 “al Qaeda militants” from a jail in Rada’a, according to AKI.

Dhahab, the leader of the AQAP force that took control of Rada’a, is a brother-in-law of Anwar al Awlaki, the American citizen who served as a senior cleric and operational commander for AQAP before he was killed in a US drone strike in August 2011. Dhahab was recently transferred to Yemen from Syria, which had captured him while he was attempting to enter Iraq, according to Reuters. It is unclear if Yemeni authorities released him or if he escaped from a Yemeni prison.

AQAP expands area of control in southern Yemen

Rada’a, a town of 60,000 people which is just 100 miles south of the capital of Sana’a, is the latest population center to fall to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

AQAP took control of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, in May 2011. The terror group has battled government forces to a standstill in Zinjibar. Three Yemeni Army brigades – one infantry, one mechanized, and one armored – are involved in the fighting in Zinjibar.

The cities of Al Koud, Ja’ar, Shaqra, and Rawdah in Abyan are currently run by AQAP. The terror group also controls Azzan in Shabwa province.

Background on AQAP and Ansar al Sharia

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been fighting under the banner of the Ansar al Sharia, or the Army of Islamic law. Ansar al Sharia constitutes “AQAP’s version of the Islamic State of Iraq,” which is al Qaeda’s political and military front in Iraq, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal last year.

“Ansar al Sharia is pulling in allied Islamist groups and sympathetic tribes into its orbit, and seeks to implement an Islamic State much like the Taliban did in Afghanistan and al Qaeda attempted in Iraq,” the official said.

In an official statement released by Ansar al Sharia in May 2011, the group said it wishes to take control of “all administrative, political, economic, cultural, monitoring, and other responsibilities” in Yemen.

AQAP is seeking to build an army to back up its Islamic state. In 2010, Qasim al Raymi, the military commander for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Mohammed Said al Umdah Gharib al T’aizzi, a senior AQAP military commander in southern Yemen, both claimed that the terror group had raised a 12,000-fighter-strong army in the southern Yemeni provinces. Yemeni officials recently told Al Hayah that “al Qaeda fighters in Zinjibar (the capital of Abyan) number in the hundreds, and perhaps exceed 2,000 gunmen.”

The terror group continues to use al Qaeda’s tactic of suicide bombings. In August 2011, Ansar al Sharia released a videotape of a suicide bomber attacking a Yemeni armored column as it traveled from Aden to Zinjibar.

AQAP has taken advantage of the political turmoil in Yemen to seize control of vast areas of the Yemeni south. Since the onset of large anti-government protests in March 2011, AQAP has openly taken control of areas in Abyan, Shabwah, Hadramawt, Marib, and Lahj provinces. Government forces have withdrawn from several major cities in the south, leaving an opening for al Qaeda and allied Islamist groups to seize control of several areas. Yemenis have described the southern port city of Aden as ripe for an AQAP takeover.

The US in turn was taking advantage of the security vacuum in Yemen to step up attacks against AQAP’s top leaders and its network. The US killed two American AQAP propagandists, Anwar al Awlaki and Samir Khan, in a Predator airstrike in September 2011, and targeted AQAP emir Nasir al Wuhayshi and media emir Ibrahim al Bana. Wuhayshi and al Bana are believed to have survived the strikes.

The drone program in Yemen was put on hold in October 2011 after Anwar al Awlaki’s son, Abdul Rahman, was killed in an airstrike that targeted al Bana. Abdul Rahman was a 16-year-old American citizen who had said he hoped “to attain martyrdom as my father attained it” just hours before he was killed, according to a Yemeni journalist.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • mike merlo says:

    So when can we start calling Yemen the ‘new’ Somalia?What a mess.

  • Stephanie says:

    Wow. This is pretty sad. Let’s hope it doesn’t continue this way.
    The Islamists are definitely making a surge these days. It will be interesting – although concerning – to see how this progresses. I was just in Egypt and I can tell you the Brotherhood definitely has a lot of support there, though from reading their newspaper it looks like they are trying to present a more moderate face (for example, opposing the Salafis ruling against saying “Merry Christmas” to Christians). I don’t know if they are really turning that way or if it’s out of political expediency.
    Anyway, this situation in Yemen is pretty worrisome, and it’s why I haven’t been thrilled about the revolutions from the start. The AQ-types have a lot of support from the people, sad to say. Egyptians I’ve talked to are pretty mislead as to what AQ is all about, though. Conspiracy theories are big.

  • Paul D says:

    Yemen joins Somalia and Pakistan as failed Islamic states!

  • mike merlo says:

    re: Paul D
    I same as you & many others ‘view’ these nations as failed. Hey maybe we’ve got this whole ‘Islamic thing’ bass ackwards & ‘we(?)’ should start ‘viewing’ these places as success stories.

  • ben says:

    @stephanie: the remarks about MB opposing salafis regarding the ruling “saying marry christmas” is quite interesting. do you have the text of this available in an electronic version or do you know where to find it?

  • Will Fenwick says:

    I’m somewhat surprised that Ansar al Sharia had not made a push to the north sooner. Reports indicate that the towns north of abyan province that have been taken put up virtually no resistance when siezed and by freeing their confederates from the various local prisons they have more than made up for their losses in the north. I would expect a similar push to the east soon, and i would also be willing to bet that the Omanis would make some attempt to set up a buffer state/administration in Al Mahrah province if the government collapses.

  • Stephanie says:

    The only article I could find about the subject in English is this and it doesn’t mention the Brotherhood by name but it does mention Dar al ifta (which I think comes out of Al Azhar? Not sure).
    But if you happen to know Arabic or know someone who knows Arabic, this one talks about the Brotherhood’s response.

  • ben says:

    @stephanie: Thank you! I will definitely check it.


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