Yemeni tribes stand up to al-Qaeda in Shabwa

By Abu Bakr al-Yamani in Sanaa

Yemeni tribesmen from Shabwa province sit in the back of a pick-up truck in the southern city of Aden on March 23rd, 2015. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

Yemeni tribesmen from Shabwa province sit in the back of a pick-up truck in the southern city of Aden on March 23rd, 2015. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

Al-Qaeda's influence in Yemen's Shabwa province is in steady decline, notably in the city of Azzan, where fierce local resistance contributed to the group's withdrawal from the city, officials and residents told Al-Mashareq.

Al-Qaeda seized control of Azzan in February 2016, taking advantage of the security vacuum created by Yemen's conflict, and held on to the city until August, when Yemeni and coalition forces drove it out.

Its plan was to create an "Islamic emirate" in Shabwa, four years after the Yemeni army and tribesmen foiled a similar plan in Abyan province.

Under al-Qaeda's control, development projects in Azzan faltered and many local residents were displaced, Shabwa governor Nasser al-Qamishi told Al-Mashareq.

"Residents yearn for security, stability and development," he said, adding that the local population did not welcome al-Qaeda's presence in their city.

Areas that have fallen under al-Qaeda's control, such as Azzan, have seen a decline in development due to the presence of extremist groups, he said.

"Although some services continued to be provided, al-Qaeda's control of the city for periods of time adversely affected the completion of service-related projects," said Mayfaa local council secretary-general Yaslam Bajnoub.

Education and health sector projects, as well as infrastructure projects, have been particularly affected, he told Al-Mashareq.

Tribal ambushes

Tribes have been pushing back against the remaining pockets of al-Qaeda fighters in Shabwa , thought to be hiding amid the area's rugged, mountainous terrain, residents and experts said.

Azzan saw clashes between al-Baouda tribe and al-Qaeda in February 2016, with each side setting up ambushes, said political researcher Abdul Razzaq Mohammed, who asked to to use a pseudonym out of concern for his safety.

This was similar to the popular resistance put up in the Loder and Modiya areas of Abyan province in 2012, he told Al-Mashareq.

At this time, popular committees confronted al-Qaeda, he said, playing a crucial role in liberating their areas after suffering under its control for close to a year.

In 2014, clashes also took place in Ahwar and Mahfad in Abyan between al-Qaeda and road bandits after the bandits killed an al-Qaeda "sharia" official.

Mohammed stressed the need to support local residents in their acts of resistance against al-Qaeda, in the same way that support was provided to the popular resistance committees led by Abdullatif al-Sayyid in Abyan in 2012.

Those committees succeeded in liberating the cities of Zinjibar, Jaar and other directorates in Abyan province, fighting alongside the Yemeni army, he said.

Tribesmen have been carrying out assaults and staging ambushes against al-Qaeda in Azzan, eyewitnesses in the city told Al-Mashareq.

When clashes broke out in February 2016, al-Baouda tribesmen set fire to an al-Qaeda vehicle laden with explosives, said tribesman Mohammed Saleh.

In another incident that month, two al-Qaeda elements were killed and eight al-Baouda tribesmen were wounded after the tribesmen ambushed an al-Qaeda checkpoint at al-Houta junction.

Popular resistance

Azzan resident Taha Hussein said armed clashes also broke out between tribesmen and al-Qaeda elements in the Azzan market on July 3rd 2016.

"A fierce battle erupted between the [popular resistance] and al-Qaeda at al-Houta junction on October 5th that left one resistance fighter killed and two wounded and three al-Qaeda elements dead," said Shabwa native and human rights activist Mohammed al-Naamani.

"Popular committees, formed in 2012, played a positive role in liberating Abyan from al-Qaeda," political affairs researcher Adnan al-Humairi told Al-Mashareq.

Residents of areas previously controlled by al-Qaeda remember the group's violations against them and "are up in arms against the group’s elements to prevent them from seizing control of their areas once again", he said.

Shabwa residents are eager to see the resumption of security in their province, and have welcomed the presence of the elite force tasked with handling security, governor al-Qamishi said.

The reception the elite force has received reveals "the extent of their desire for the presence of security personnel and their rejection of the lawlessness and chaos that terrorist groups like al-Qaeda seek to exploit", he added.

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