August 20, 2014
“We announce solidarity with our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the crusade. Their blood and injuries are ours and we will surely support them,” the statement read. “We assert to the Islamic Nation [all Muslims worldwide] that we stand by the side of our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the American and Iranian conspiracy and their agents of the apostate Gulf rulers.”
Many observers note that AQAP and ISIL are using similar tactics and are exchanging strategy and advice.
Saeed Al-Jamhi, head of the Al-Jamhi Center for Strategic Studies, says “the killing and operations of AQAP against military locations is similar to the ones done by ISIL in Iraq.”
Al-Jamhi told the Yemen Times that there are gunmen associated with ISIL who are in Yemen to train AQAP affiliates, and there are AQAP members in Iraq and Syria who are affiliated with ISIL, including those who went to the area before ISIL was created in 2013 and joined after.
“There are disagreements within AQAP, as one group believes that ISIL is not affiliated with the global leadership of Al-Qaeda, while the other one, which is led by Jalal Baleedi, supports what ISIL is doing. This divides Al-Qaeda in Yemen and probably its role will fade while ISIL’s role will increase,” Al-Jamhi said.
On August 9, a group of AQAP militants abducted and executed 14 soldiers in Al-Hawta area of Hadramout. They released photos and videos of the act, displaying to the public their beheading of four of the soldiers and leading many to note the similarities between events in Hadramout and Iraq and Syria.
“The massacre of the soldiers in Hadramout increased the peoples’ belief that AQAP in Yemen is part of that group [ISIL] and that it is trying to join it,” says Mused Al-Salimi, a journalist with the government-owned October 14 newspaper.
He continued, “AQAP in Yemen is committing the same atrocities and using the same methods of killing and maiming corpses, and other actions, which has made us sure that there are strong ties between them in both countries—Iraq and Yemen—which has lead them [AQAP] to release the statement.”
Apart from recent events in Hadramout, there have been many other attacks by AQAP against military and security personnel that observers are referring to. For example, in an operation in Abyan in October last year AQAP stormed the headquarters of the 111th Infantry Brigade, killing and wounding 12 soldiers.
In other AQAP assaults, nine soldiers were killed in September 2013 in an attack on the 2nd Military Command in Hadramout, 56 people were killed and 215 wounded in a raid against the Defense Ministry hospital in December 2013, and in Aden governorate seven soldiers were injured when the governorate’s security headquarters was bombed at the end of September last year.
In addition to the official announcement by AQAP on Thursday, Saudi citizen Ibrahim Al-Rabeesh, who is a prominent AQAP leader, released an 11 minute video last week in which he congratulates the jihadists on all fronts, including ISIL, for their achievements in Iraq.
Although many of the attacks by AQAP in Yemen bear similarities to those carried out by ISIL, the strategy and planning used is not necessarily unique to these two groups. What lends support to the notion that both actors are connected are the announcements by AQAP in support of ISIL, and the claims that the two groups are sharing advice and even training each other.
ISIL was formed at the beginning of 2013 when Islamist fighters in Iraq and Syria united under the name ISIL. The leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, officially rejected the group in November, 2013 and declared it as independent and not part of or even affiliated with Al-Qaeda. AQAP was formed in 2009, uniting Al-Qaeda’s branches in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
According to Arabian new agency Ad-Dostor, Al-Zawahiri stated in the recording that ISIL plays an important role in the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East.
“The situation in the middle East heralds to us the victory of Islam and the destruction of the crusaders,” the radical announced. “ISIL is the highest and most productive step towards the establishment of the Caliphate than are all the attempts by disparate jihadists groups, and these groups are obligated to pledge allegiance to the “State”, and not the other way around.”
According to Ayman, the leader of ISIL is then the “emir of the right-believing”, and the “leader of all Moslems and mujahedin of our times.”