Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an official branch of al Qaeda’s international organization, has publicly executed at least two men who were accused of serving as spies for Saudi Arabia and the US. Some accounts say as many as four men have been executed.
AQAP’s online jihadist supporters have alleged that the men played a key role in helping US officials locate and then kill the group’s senior leaders in drone strikes.
AQAP has lost several top leaders since the beginning of the year, including Nasir al Wuhayshi, the organization’s co-founder and emir, who was killed in a drone strike just days ago. Wuhayshi also served as al Qaeda’s global general manager.
Pictures posted by jihadists on social media show the two “spies” kneeling on a beach in the port city of Al Mukallah, with AQAP members circling around them. The men are then shot and their bodies are strung up on a nearby bridge. Photos of the men on the beach can be seen on the right and above.
The Long War Journal has decided not to publish the graphic photos of the dead men’s bodies hanging from the bridge at this time.
There is no way to immediately verify AQAP’s claims regarding the men. Spies have reportedly infiltrated the group before. And AQAP has executed men accused of espionage on behalf of its enemies in the past. Last year, for instance, the group killed four men who were accused of implanting electronic tracking devices in vehicles targeted by American drones.
Social media accounts have buzzed with allegations of AQAP’s infiltration for weeks. One well-connected jihadist media operative known as Al Siyasi al Mutaqaid wrote a lengthy analysis claiming that AQAP’s media arm, Al Malahem Media, had a mole in his ranks.
Al Mutaqaid identified a man named Humam Al Hamid as a supposed double-agent. Al Mutaqaid further alleged that he had repeatedly warned AQAP about al Hamid, but his warnings were ignored. Another jihadist has translated al Mutaqaid’s claims into English and posted it online.
Al Hamid was recently detained by AQAP, according to multiple reports on social media. Some accounts identify him as one of the men executed on the beach in Mukallah. One photo purportedly shows al Hamid’s body either before or after his corpse was strung up on a bridge. However, this could not be confirmed as of this writing.
The controversy over al Hamid’s purported role is difficult to untangle, as his critics have alleged that he is connected to both the Islamic State, AQAP’s rival, as well as the American and Saudi spy agencies. It could be the case that these assertions are intended to paint the Islamic State in a negative light within the jihadists’ ranks, as Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization is frequently accused of working with the jihadists’ enemies in order to buttress its own cause.
Still, al Hamid did work for the Al Battar Media Foundation, which backs the Islamic State, before joining AQAP’s ranks. Al Battar has issued a statement addressing the rumors. While the media group conceded that al Hamid was one of its co-founders, it also claimed to have lost contact with him.
“Al Battar Foundation does not bear responsibility for the mistakes of [al Qaeda] and what resulted from them of malfunctions in its ranks,” the group said in a statement last month, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. “Therefore, supporters of the organization and its soldiers must admit their mistakes rather than preoccupy themselves with casting accusations on this side or that.”
According to SITE, Al Battar also said that al Hamid had “reached high positions, until he reached the councils of the emir of al Qaeda and its military and jurist leaders.” If true, then al Hamid may have had contact with the recently slain Wuhayshi, or his immediate advisers.
But Al Battar emphasized that whatever mistakes were made, it was AQAP’s fault, not the Islamic State’s. “You are responsible for this negligence and malfunction, not the State and its supporters. Humam al Hamid is one of the media officials in al Qaeda in Yemen and not in the State.”
Of course, the details of how the US and its partners killed several AQAP leaders in drone strikes this year are not publicly known. The precise intelligence is classified. Therefore, it is unknown whether or not spies have assisted the drone campaign in Yemen, as some jihadists are alleging.