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An Overview of Al-Qaeda in Yemen

This document summarizes a number of articles and new material which appeared in the Arab media at the end of 2011. These articles brought the following points to light:


  • Al-Qaeda’s upsurge occurred at the same time as the decline of Yemen’s central government, an increase in opposition forces, and increased laxness in general security in Yemen.
  • Ansar al-Shariah, which is tied to Al-Qaeda in Yemen, now controls a number of regions in Southern Yemen: the cities of Azan and Habban in Shabwa Governorate; most of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan Governorate; and additional areas in Shabwa and Abyan Governorates. These two provinces are the organization’s strongholds in Yemen.
  • Al-Qaeda has been fighting protracted battles against the Yemeni army for several months. It has a large number of fighters and is entrenched in city centers. This pattern of behavior differs from Al-Qaeda’s image as a small terrorist organization that holes up in mountains and caves to which access is difficult, out of fear of the Yemeni forces. In provinces where the government has strong control, Al-Qaeda intends to continue with its previous practice of using sleeper cells to perpetrate terrorist attacks.
  • In addition to fighting the Yemeni army, Al-Qaeda carries out various activities in place of the government, in those areas which are under its control: protecting the inhabitants’ personal security, aiding the needy, maintaining infrastructure, conducting criminal trials (obviously in accordance with Islamic religious law [shari’a]), and establishing a media and propaganda arm.
  • Al-Qaeda obtains boatloads of arms and activists from Somalia, and is recruiting a significant number of activists, for what appears to be expansion of armed conflict with the Yemeni army and security forces.

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