Al-Qaeda, ISIS clash in Yemen's al-Bayda

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


Yemeni fighters loyal to the government take position as they close in on a suspected location of an AQAP leader during their offensive in the Mesini Valley in the province of Hadramaut on February 21st, 2018. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

The recent fighting in central Yemen's al-Bayda province between the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and al-Qaeda brings to the fore the two groups' divergence of priorities and their struggle for control over some areas of the province, Yemeni researchers told Al-Mashareq.

Fierce fighting broke out in al-Bayda's al-Qayfa district in mid-July between ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

ISIS elements attacked AQAP in al-Qayfa, killing 13 of the group's elements and arresting 12 others, according to the SITE intelligence monitoring group.

ISIS posted a video on its Amaq propaganda agency purporting to show the 12 AQAP elements captured by the group.

In response, AQAP attacked an ISIS position in the town, killing more than 25 ISIS elements and seizing weapons and military vehicles, SITE said.

AQAP also called in a statement for continuing the fight against ISIS.

A struggle for survival

The ongoing war between AQAP and ISIS is "a natural product of the ideologies held by these extremist religious movements", political analyst Adnan al-Humairi told Al-Mashareq.

Each side seeks to impose its control over the entire territory in which it is present and to eliminate any "competitor that might want to share in the power", he told Al-Mashareq.

AQAP has had a longer presence in al-Bayda province, and hence views ISIS as an intruder that must be eliminated, especially as most of ISIS's elements are non-Yemenis, he said.

ISIS’s choice of al-Qayfa district to conduct the attack on its rival group "is an infringement on an AQAP area of influence, which means shoving AQAP out of the arena", al-Humairi said.

For AQAP, this is a "struggle for existence", he said.

"A spillover of the fighting outside al-Bayda province is inconceivable at this time," al-Humairi said, "because ISIS does not have a popular or tribal incubator and is considered an intruder to al-Qayfa, [al-Bayda] province and Yemen in general."

Diverging priorities

The Yemeni army’s entry into al-Bayda province and the defeats it dealt to the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) there, have had an adverse impact on al-Qaeda and ISIS, Abaad Centre for Strategic Studies head Abdul Salam Mohammed told Al-Mashareq.

These groups have taken advantage of the war with the Houthis to engage in sectarian recruitment among the tribes, he said.

"As soon as the army forces entered al-Bayda, they managed to win the tribes over to their side and neutralise some of those who were fighting alongside terrorist groups," he said.

This led to competition between the two groups -- AQAP and ISIS -- for influence and control over the areas that remain under their control, Mohammed said.

Since AQAP’s presence in Yemen predates ISIS, "AQAP was concerned that ISIS would lure away its supporters, and so clashes broke out" between the two groups in al-Bayda, he said.

This is similar to what happened in other areas of Yemen after they were liberated by the army, including in Aden, Shabwa, Hadramaut and Abyan provinces, he added.

There is a divergence in the ideologies of AQAP and ISIS, Mohammed said, wherein AQAP's is predicated on sectarian animosity toward the Houthis and its priority is to fight them, while ISIS's priority is to gain control and power.

Therefore, ISIS avoids engaging in fierce fighting against the Houthis and "targets army forces and sometimes AQAP instead", he said.

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