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Let the Speculation Begin

Now that it is confirmed that al-‘Awfi is back in Saudi Arabia’s custody, everyone has a chance to speculate on exactly how he came in from the cold and what this means for al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Thomas over at Jihadica, who has some very kind words for this blog, suggests that the surrendering himself story may be a bit of wishful thinking and disinformation.

This is probably spin; if he did, it was at gunpoint. The question is why al-Awfi’s capture comes now, only weeks after he made headlines. This is especially interesting given Yemen’s very poor record of locating and arresting al-Qaida leaders. My guess is that Saudi intelligence has become more actively involved in Yemen. If true, this is a good sign, for the Saudis have become very good at counterterrorism.

Trey at the Empty Quarter suggests much the same thing.

This story from the AP, quoting a Ministry of the Interior statement says he surrendered in Shabwa.

What seems to have happened, at least the best I can put it together so far, is that al-‘Awfi was essentially sold out by the tribe he was staying with in Shabwa. They denied him refuge, probably in exchange for government money. This comes only two weeks after Salih traveled out to Marib to talk to tribal leaders from Marib al-Jawf and Shabwa.

Salih has consistently shown himself to be quite skilled at these types of negotiations. The only problem is that they tend to be one-off deals that wait for the next crisis to present itself before they are renewed.

For instance, in December 2001 Salih negotiated with tribal shayks in Marib after 18 special forces troops were captured when they tried to attack two al-Qaeda suspects that had taken refuge in the village.

Following the 2007 suicide attack on a convoy of Spanish tourists in Marib, Yemeni security forces reacted by taking down the main cell responsible for the attack a month later. Al-Qaeda screamed betrayal in some of the martyr biographies that were later published in Sada al-Malahim (The Echo of Battles), claiming that the ‘Abidah tribe had sold out their brothers and cousins.

There is also the possibility that the Saudi government put pressure on his family back in Saudi Arabia, but this is impossible to verify.

Other theories are welcome in the comments section.


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