Fighters from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula reportedly distributed a statement throughout Yemen’s eastern Hadramout province yesterday curtailing women’s participation in public life. According to the Arabic media, the statement bars women from carrying out basic daily activities, such as going to public markets, a staple in a country like Yemen, without the accompaniment of a “mahram,” a male relative whom they could not lawfully marry.
The statement also prohibits women from participating in sports such as soccer as well as from sitting in coffee shops, deemed a “pastime prohibited by Islamic law.” Locals in Hadramout said the statement declared that the aforementioned prohibitions would go into effect on the morning of July 21 and that AQAP would take the appropriate measures if sharia is not implemented.
In addition to addressing women’s activities, reports claimed that the statement also expressed the group’s intention to establish an Islamic emirate in Yemen led by Nasir al Wuhayshi, who serves as both the leader of AQAP and as al Qaeda’s general manager. AQAP has allotted the people of Hadramout 10 days to study the statement before its fighters return to discuss avenues for the implementation of sharia.
While sharia law is mentioned as the source of all Yemeni legislation in the country’s constitution, Islamic law is not explicitly implemented by the state. Yemen’s conservative society, however, is shaped by social and religious norms, including precepts drawn from the Islamic legal tradition. AQAP’s recent statement, as well as previous statements to the same effect, seeks to replace the republican system of government in Yemen and rule the country exclusively by sharia.
AQAP’s newest statement comes as the group is conducting an assassination campaign in lawless Hadramout province. AQAP seems to be carrying out its threat announced in an October 2013 statement that called for targeting anyone “practicing sorcery and witchcraft.” At least four people have been killed in Hadramout in the past few weeks on charges of sorcery, including a homeopathic healer killed yesterday in the city of al Shaher.
Hadramout is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, and the province has become an AQAP bastion over the past several years. AQAP has regrouped in Hadramout and other provinces after losing control of major cities in Abyan and Shabwa provinces to government forces starting in late spring 2012. In May 2013, the Yemeni government claimed it foiled a plot by AQAP to establish an Islamic emirate in the Ghayl Bawazir area.
AQAP has launched a series of assassinations and complex attacks against Yemeni security forces in the province. In September 2013, a platoon-sized AQAP assault team stormed a base run by the Interior Ministry’s paramilitary Central Security Organization in the city of Mukallah. Several soldiers were killed and the base was held by AQAP for days before it was retaken by commandos.
The US began conducting drone strikes in Hadramout in 2012, and has now carried out a total of 15 strikes in the province. On March 6, AQAP retaliated for the killing of AQAP commander Ali Juraym in a drone strike in Al Jawf province by brutally killing a so-called “American spy” in Hadramout.