Al-Qaeda, ISIS rivalry in Yemen degrades both: analysts

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


A tank deployed by the Yemeni army is seen in al-Bayda province in this photo from May 18th, 2014. [AFP photo/Stringer]

The rivalry between al-Qaeda and the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) for influence in Yemen's al-Bayda province is weakening both groups and aiding the fight against them, experts told Al-Mashareq.

The province's al-Qayfa area has seen a recent escalation in armed clashes between al-Qaeda and ISIS. Meanwhile, supporters of the two groups have been waging an online propaganda war as they each seek to gain followers in Yemen.

In late March, an ISIS suicide bomber attacked an al-Qaeda base in the village of Thi Kalib al-Asfal, killing more than 10 of the group's elements.

Al-Qaeda responded by attacking ISIS bases.

In a further escalation of hostilities, al-Qaeda aligned "Sons of al-Qayfa" announced a reward of five million Yemeni riyals ($20,000) for the ISIS leader in Yakla, Khalid al-Marfadi.

These incidents follow fierce fighting between the two sides that began in July.

A vulnerable state

"The fighting and armed conflict between al-Qaeda and ISIS in al-Bayda is weakening both sides," political analyst Adnan al-Humairi told Al-Mashareq.

This is making it easier for Yemeni forces and the Arab coalition to fight them, he said, noting that hostilities between the two groups make it easier for local authorities and counter-terrorism agencies to infiltrate them.

"Both groups in Yemen are in a state of decline and debilitation for many reasons," he said.

Several al-Qaeda leaders have been killed in Yemen, he said, most recently Jamal al-Badawi, the second-in-command of the group’s branch in Yemen.

"Al-Qaeda in Yemen is at its worst point, compared to the state it was in [during] 2016 and 2017," al-Humairi said.

He pointed to the group’s defeat in al-Mukalla in Hadramaut province and in Shabwa and Abyan at the hands of the UAE-backed Hadramaut and Shabwa Elite Forces and Security Belt Forces.

Other factors that have contributed to al-Qaeda's decline include the "dearth of financial resources, weak recruitment and training opportunities, the pursuit of its current leadership and its weak operational capabilities", he said.

He also noted that ISIS recently issued an appeal to its followers to migrate to Yemen's al-Bayda province.

"This confirms the group’s desire to survive and expand at the expense of al-Qaeda," al-Humairi said, and it indicates a potential escalation of the conflict and clashes between the two sides in the days ahead.

'A struggle for survival'

Even though they are both extremist groups, the points of dispute between al-Qaeda and ISIS outnumber the points of agreement, journalist Munir Talal told Al-Mashareq.

"The war of interests and struggle for survival between them is likely to escalate, which would consequently weaken the capabilities of both groups on various levels," he said.

Al-Qaeda was able to take advantage of the war in Yemen and the decline in ISIS’s influence to regroup and recruit new members, political analyst Waddah al-Jalil told Al-Mashareq.

But the overlapping efforts of local and regional actors to fight al-Qaeda have left it in disarray, "both in terms of rebuilding and organising its capabilities and also carrying out attacks", he said.

"The Arab coalition's recapture of territory in the southern provinces and its success in fighting al-Qaeda deprived it of the opportunity to spread and expand," he added.

This caused the group's influence to wane in most areas, with only a few pockets remaining under its control in Shabwa, al-Bayda and a small part of Hadramaut, al-Jalil said.

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