Terrorism |

Al-Qaeda's influence in Yemen wanes

By Abu Bakr al-Yamani in Sanaa

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Yemeni forces walk in Zinjibar the capital of the southern Abyan province on August 16th, 2016 following an offensive to recapture the city from al-Qaeda. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

A string of assassinations and arrests targeting al-Qaeda in Yemen's leadership last month and successful security campaigns to clamp down on its presence in the country have rendered the group unable to execute major attacks in Yemen, experts said.

The extent of the group's weakness is apparent in the way it is carrying out suicide attacks, they said, which are markedly less impactful and lack in precision compared to past attacks.

In a Monday (October 23rd) failed al-Qaeda attack in the southern province of Abyan, a car rigged with explosives carrying five militants pulled up to a military base in the district of Modiyah, a security source said.

Four men wearing explosive belts ran out of the car towards the base, but were all shot dead before they could blow themselves up, the source said.

The vehicle then exploded outside the base, killing the driver and four soldiers from a UAE-backed contingent in the Yemeni army.

Crackdown on al-Qaeda

"Al-Qaeda’s suicide operations reflect how bankrupt its leaders are, at least whoever is left of its military, ideological or financial leaders," said political affairs researcher Tareq al-Zuraiqi.

The group has become fearful of armed clashes and is instead resorting to suicide bombings in a bid to prove it still exists despite the purge campaigns against it by government forces, he told Al-Mashareq.

However, he said, the group is "grasping at straws" as Yemeni forces, backed by the Arab coalition, succeeded in purging the coastal region of Hadramaut province in record time in April 2016, after a year-long al-Qaeda rule.

UAE-trained Yemeni special forces launched a major operation against al-Qaeda two months ago, driving it from the oil-rich Shabwa province.

Tribesmen also played an important role along with Yemeni forces in liberating the Abyan districts of Lawdar, Modiyah and al-Wadea from al-Qaeda.

Security campaigns are ongoing in all directorates of Abyan, Lahj and in Hadramaut Valley districts to rout al-Qaeda cells.

"Residents of those provinces are standing by the army and security forces, and this has deprived al-Qaeda of a social incubator," he said.

"The global financial crackdown on al-Qaeda and the efforts to dry up its sources of funding have also borne fruit," he added.

Targeting al-Qaeda's leadership

There is no doubt that the group has been significantly weakened and no longer enjoys the influence it used to wield in Yemen, said Mohammed Azzan, a researcher specialising in Islamist groups.

As a result, interest in joining al-Qaeda has weakened, he told Al-Mashareq.

Al-Qaeda is suffering from a state of turmoil "because it has lost its most influential leaders on the ground in the wars it has waged and lost", said political researcher Adnan al-Humairi.

Yemeni tribes have turned against the group and no longer provide a safe haven for its elements, he said.

Al-Humairi cited a number of high profile al-Qaeda leaders who were killed in the past six years, including Anwar al-Awlaki who was killed in a US airstrike in 2011.

Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the No. 2 leader in al Qaeda globally, served as the leader of AQAP until his death in an airstrike in 2015.

More recently, Yemen's security belt forces on September 27th killed al-Qaeda leader Ahmad Abdul Nabi in Lahj's Yafaa directorate in an exchange of fire.

That same day in Abyan, the security campaign currently under way in the province, netted the group's explosives and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) expert al-Khedhr Ahmed Hussein, also known as al-Darmali.

On September 18th, security belt forces and special operations units in Abyan besieged Mohammed al-Awsaji, al-Qaeda's emir in Lawdar, and killed him after he refused to surrender.

The forces also arrested Aqeel Amtali, another al-Qaeda leader, in the same operation.

On April 21st, senior al-Qaeda leaders Ahmed Said Awad Barhamah, known as "Yemen's al-Zarqawi", and Abu Ali al-Sayari were arrested during separate raids in Hadramaut province, along with a number of other al-Qaeda elements.

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