This is an ICSR Insight by Research Fellow, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens
ICSR has obtained and translated a recent talk given online by Abu Zubair Adel al-Abab, a Shariah Official for al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Speaking last month through an online chat forum popular with Salafi-jihadis, he answered questions in real-time from a global audience of over one hundred participants. The lecture was delivered in Arabic, but was widely advertised on a number of al-Qaeda linked forums, including those in English.
AQAP is attempting to present itself along more traditional insurgency lines in order to take advantage of a power vacuum in the country
AQAP has learned from the mistakes of al-Qaeda in Iraq, whose uncompromising implementation ofShariah law alienated large swathes of the local population. Thus, much of the talk is devoted to highlighting AQAP’s efforts in social welfare activism, including the provision of basic services such as sewage management and clean water. The population has long resented the central government for its failure to provide such services, and al-Abab is well aware of this:
The largest problem that we face here are the lack of public services such as sewage and water, and we are trying to find solutions.
We have here in Ja’ar [capital of Yemen’s southern Abyan province] full plans for projects we want to achieve for the people such as water, sewage and cleaning…These projects are ready, and the regime has failed in carrying out these services
Whereas most Salafi-jihadi groups consider the ‘largest problem’ in any Muslim majority country as being a lack of Shariah law, AQAP has – at least on a rhetorical level – relegated ideological concerns in favour of local ones. The organisation clearly recognises that for any anti-regime group to succeed in the country, it must first build alliances with the local population by addressing local grievances.
To this end, AQAP is also trying to take ownership of the current uprisings in the country, and al-Abab scolds establishment Sheikhs who have long supported Arab dictatorships:
O Muslim scholars enough all what happened because of you [referring to the establishment Sheikhs who have supported Arab regimes], and today these events are taking place around the planet because the Almighty is ordering change against the tyrants.
We, the Sunni Muslim scholars, must unite and join hands and show people the path of monotheism and show the Muslim nation that we can offer security and safety, and advise them when to fight and when not to fight, and teach them the doctrine of loyalty and disavowal.
This is not to understate the significance of Shariah to the group, which al-Abab anticipates will be implemented through its offer of a viable alternative to the central government:
We hope that when the people see us meet their demands, they will accept the methodology of the mujahideen and accept the implementation of Shariah.
[NOTE: For more on AQAP’s traditional insurgency tactics see R. Evans, ‘From Iraq to Yemen: Al-Qa’ida’s Shifting Strategies’, CTC Sentinel, 3:1 (2010)]
Claiming control over significant parts of the country
Al-Abab claims AQAP controls parts of North and South-Eastern Yemen:
…we are many and are growing in Ma’arib [North-Eastern province], and in Shabwa [South-Eastern province] we are openly in control, with some military and government points now in our hands. In the parts of Abyan [Southern province] where the mujahideen are in control, they run people’s lives in accordance with Shariah law, while also inviting others to the implementation of Shariah.
It also maintains a presence in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, where members are promoting the work of the mujahideen in marketplaces and mosques:
Within Sana’a we have cells that are arranging to work according to the power of the regime in the area, and thus their work is not only to fight the battles, but also to progress our interests through proselytising and lecturing in mosques, festivals and markets. Here, we hope to show people the principles of monotheism and simplify our message for the masses, offering Shariah as the solution to their problems. Thus, we organise presentations for them in the marketplace using projectors and other broadcasting tools.
Plea for money and volunteers to run media
AQAP is in need of money – ‘the lifeblood of jihad’’ – and al-Abab appears to place more emphasis on fundraising than on recruiting fighters:
Many people come to us from within Yemen and from outside…and they ask us to arm them, but we tell them wait until we announce the call to jihad. However, this call has already gone out for those who have the money to buy arms.
O Muslims, O Sunni traders, Allah is in your money.
This echoes similar requests for funds in the last edition of Inspire magazine, which is produced by members of AQAP.
The organisation also requires volunteers to run its radio station, as well as help increase its online activities:
Today we have a radio station in Ja’ar, but we do not have the media crew to run this radio station that broadcasts at a distance of 60 km. So that we need media professionals and media specialists, technicians and internet experts as well to help us in media work.
By cultivating a strong media presence since 9/11, al-Qaeda has sought to offer an alternative to the mainstream media which supposedly distorts the true nature of the global jihad, and AQAP is no exception:
I call on all Muslims to understand the issues relating to jihad and the mujahideen fighters from our sources. Do not pay attention or take your information from the sources of the enemy and their media.
Heavily anti-Houthi, who are accused of acting against Sunnis on behalf of the Iranian regime
Although AQAP has sought to avoid the violent sectarianism of other al-Qaeda affiliates, al-Abab’s lecture contains much animosity towards the Houthi Shia, who are currently fighting their own insurgency against President Saleh’s regime:
Today, our situation in Sa’ada [Northern province] is very good as we exist in large numbers, but we also face the [Houthi] Shia here and this threatens the existence of the Sunnis and the mujahideen. However, the large numbers of Shiites has encouraged many Sunnis to join us to resist the Houthis who follow Iran’s Twelver Shiism.