A new base? Al Qaeda rises in Yemen.
Suspected in the kidnapping of nine foreigners last week, the militant group appears to be gaining momentum – thanks in part to weak central government.
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The fate of the six others is still unknown, according to the office of General Security in Sanaa. Yemen has offered a reward of $275,000 "for information leading to the capture of the kidnappers," according to Reuters. The news agency also reported on Thursday that suspected Al Qaeda agent Nayef Yahya al-Harbi, a Saudi, has turned himself in.Skip to next paragraph
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Yemen has a long history of taking foreigners hostage, with tribal factions using their abductees as bargaining tools to settle grievances with the Yemeni government. Roughly 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Yemen over the past 15 years. In almost every case, they have been released unharmed.
The Yemeni government has accused the Houthis, a Shiite rebel group that has been violently clashing with Yemeni forces in Saada since 2004, of the abductions and murders. The group, however, has strongly denied involvement in the incident.
Furthermore, analysts say that the executions carry the mark of Al Qaeda, not the Houthis.
"The first sign [that Al Qaeda is responsible] is the nationality of the victims and their job descriptions, because they [belong] to a Christian organization," says Mr. Haidar.
No. 1 problem for Yemen: threat of secession
Yemeni tribal violence contrasts greatly with the ideology of Al Qaeda. If Al Qaeda is indeed responsible for the attack in Saada, they will claim responsibility in the coming weeks, say four political analysts from the Sheba Center interviewed by the Monitor.
AQAP has repeatedly threatened the lives of foreigners and foreign institutions in Yemen, with attacks increasing over the past few years, including an attack on the US Embassy in Sanaa in September 2008 that killed 16.
Additionally, AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi released an online audio statement in early May declaring the organization's support for the southern separatists in attacking government interests.
"The Yemeni government has a finite amount of resources. Right now the No. 1 problem of the Yemeni government is the threat from secession in the south," says Mr. Johnsen. "The more these conflicts are instigated and continue on, then the better this is for Al Qaeda, because the Yemeni government isn't able to decapitate the leadership of the organization."
Only in 1990 did the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, or South Yemen, unify with its northern neighbor to create the Republic of Yemen. Since unification, southern separatists claim that they have been marginalized by the government in Sanaa, which is located in the north of the country. Calls to secede from the republic have increased in southern provinces during the past few months.
Since the beginning of May, 22 Yemenis have been killed in clashes relating to the southern separatist movement, according to the Associated Press.
"Because of the growing problems in the south right now, Al Qaeda is trying to mingle with the people to attract them to their cause," Haidar says. "This will help Al Qaeda over the passage of time, to fulfill their goal of creating an Islamic state in the south Yemen."