Local war in southern Yemen pits government against militants
The Yemeni government launched air strikes against suspected Al Qaeda militants in southern Yemen's Abyan province this weekend.
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Additionally, AQAP – a group that shares Osama bin Laden's worldview but is largely separate from his organization – released an online recording last week announcing the formation of an Aden-Abyan army.
“We have become closer to placing the first building blocks for the Aden Abyan army, and it is a line of defense for the nation and its religion,” said AQAP leading figure Qassim Al Raymi in the audio recording.
Fouad Selahy, a political sociology professor at Sanaa University, says AQAP leaders chose Abyan for its strategic location. It sits next to large desert areas that facilitate the passage of militants from Saudi Arabia and it's close to the sea, providing another gateway for jihadis.
However, Prof. Selahy added that he doesn’t believe every attack against the Yemeni military in southern Yemen is necessarily carried out by Al Qaeda, even though the Yemeni government may say otherwise.
“When the government attacks any governorate, the young people will retaliate and use weapons against the government,” he says. “The planes are striking their regions, the planes are destroying their homes and farms. These people are not necessarily Al Qaeda.”
One civilian was killed in the weekend attacks, while two women were injured, according to the local Yemeni press.
“Yesterday the planes hit the citizens, even women and children,” says Abyan-resident Nasser Al Fadhli, brother of southern separatist leader Tariq Al Fadhli, in a phone interview. “There was nothing called Al Qaeda present in the place of the attacks.”
The government calls everyone who opposes it "Al Qaeda" so they are able to attack the southerners, says Mr. Fadhli, indicative of the marginalization southerners feel regardless of their affiliation with a jihadist organization.
In addition to having an Al Qaeda presence, Abyan is a stronghold of Yemen's southern separatist movement. The separatists, who call for the recreation of an independent southern state, have used violence against security forces in the past. While they share a common enemy – the Yemeni government – with AQAP militants, there is no proof that separatist leaders work directly with AQAP.