Fierce competition between al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) in Yemen is bound to weaken both groups, experts tell Al-Mashareq.
In an August report to the UN Security Council, a UN committee tasked with monitoring the situation in Yemen revealed AQAP has taken advantage of the ongoing war to seize control of southern and eastern areas of the country, while ISIL has capitalised by establishing a foothold.
"From a technical standpoint, al-Qaeda’s field operations capabilities have improved, and this can be seen in the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) they currently use in Yemen," the report said.
However, the two extremist groups are "undermining one another as they compete for recruits", according to the report.
Struggle for the upper hand
"The competition between al-Qaeda and ISIL is in the former’s favour, even though the latter is gaining a foothold in Yemen," said strategic expert Adnan al-Humairi.
Al-Qaeda's roots go back to the battle against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, he said, "and that link in people’s minds still remains a strong motivator" that helps the group recruit new members.
Al-Humairi also noted that al-Qaeda has sought to exploit the "conservative and tribal" nature of Yemeni society to attract followers among the tribes and create a social incubator for itself.
Members of the Dhahab tribe in the Radaa area of al-Bayda province and tribes from other parts of the southern and eastern provinces have been joining the group under religious pretexts, he said.
This makes it easier to attract other tribesmen "who follow their elders’ orders, whether they are convinced or not", al-Humairi said.
Additionally, he said, al-Qaeda’s strongholds in Yemen, such as Abyan, Shabwa and parts of Hadramaut, give the group an advantage in terms of survival and continuity, as well as making it easier for them to obtain money and weapons.
"An environment like Iraq or Syria might be more conducive for the growth of ISIL," he said, as it is easier for the group to bring in fighters, particularly foreign fighters, "which is not the case in Yemen".
However, al-Humairi said, he expects that the competition between the two groups will eventually lead to the weakening of them both.
"Al-Qaeda exploits religion in order to infiltrate society and to achieve its objectives," political analyst Naif Haidan told Al-Mashareq.
Yemeni society is conservative, he said, and the high rate of illiteracy "makes the targets of the group highly susceptible and unquestioning of the group’s orders and guidance", especially in more religious areas.
As for the current conflict between ISIL and al-Qaeda, Haidan said, it is mainly based on differences in tactics, "as both their goals and ideologies are one and the same, and their sources and support are the same".
Both groups seek to destroy Yemen's infrastructure, he said, but in the end, the competition between them on money, fighters and weapons will ultimately lead to their demise.
Al-Qaeda is becoming "outdated" in Yemen with a waning support base, strategic affairs researcher Saeed Abdul Moumin told Al-Mashareq.
The group has been expelled from several areas, he said, including Abyan and the Hadramaut provincial capital of al-Mukalla.
As for ISIL, he added, "their name scares people, as the group takes advantage of disproportionate media coverage to terrorise and portray Islam in a negative light, which is shunned by all".
"The Yemeni people reject extremist groups in any form and under any name, whether it is al-Qaeda or ISIL," he stressed. "Proof of this is the relief felt by people in al-Qaeda-controlled territory when the group left the area, as witnessed in Abyan and al-Mukalla."