Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Johnsen has written for a variety of publications on Yemen including, among others, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, The Independent, The Boston Globe, and The National. He is the co-founder of Waq al-Waq: Islam and Insurgency in Yemen Blog. In 2009, he was a member of the USAID's conflict assessment team for Yemen.
One of the dangers of having access to a blog is the temptation to post instant analysis on anything and everything that happens, which can be quite dangerous and often misleading. That caveat firmly in place, I have a few initial thoughts on al-Wahayshi's speech that was posted to jihadi forums this morning.
Much of it is not new. President Ali Abdullah Salih and Muhammad bin Nayf, the deputy Minister of the Interior (and the guy running day-to-day operations) in Saudi Arabia come in for special criticism. Salih is compared to Mahmud Abbas in Palestine and Nayf is compared to Muhammad Dahlan. The point being that they are both "despicable agents" of the west and particularly of the US. These, however, are differnet names than they are usually called, which I see as an attempt by al-Wahayshi to not only link them to the villains of Islamic history but also to the perceived villains of contemporary Arab politics.
Al-Wahayshi claims that the war - the crusader war being assisted by Salih and Nayf - is currently centering around the Yemeni governorates of Marib, al-Jawf, Shabwa, Abyan, San'a, and Hadramawt. His is essentially a call to the tribes in these areas not to succumb to government pressure - or as he calls it tricks and deception. He argues that the tribes need to maintain their independence as the government is seeking to strip them of their weapons and take control of their lands. This, of course, is what al-Qaeda fighters need: the refuge provided by the tribes and the opportunity to operate in under-governed regions. If they lose this sanctuary then they will be in a world of trouble, as al-Wahayshi well knows.
It is an interesting argument - and is most likely in reply to the recent trip Salih made to Marib to speak with Shaykhs from Marib, al-Jawf, and Shabwa - but I'm not sure what if any impact it will have on the tribes, and he mentions a number of Yemeni tribes by name in a section where he claims that Salih is not sending his soldiers to defend Palestine but instead is sending them out against the tribes. The government, at least to outside observers, has the money while al-Wahayshi has the rhetoric. The former is often stronger than the latter.
The speech, which can be downloaded at any number of easily accessible jihadi websites, is about 9 minutes long. There is also, very conveniently a transcript of the speech. Although the transcript does not include the 4 minute introduction and the 7 minute poem which end the audio file.
Update: I wanted to mention a couple of other things that I didn't have time to get to as I was heading out the door for campus this morning. First, I think it is fairly obvious that this speech was recorded prior to the announcement of al-'Awfi's coming in from the cold. And therefore I don't think this can be read as a speech being made from weakness. Concern, yes. But weakness, no. That may come later.
Second, I was interested by the people al-Wahayshi mentioned by name: Abu Tariq al-'Arada, Abu 'Ali al-Harithi, Abu Muhsin al-Midhar, Salim al-Hadad and Abu Muslim al-Nihmi.
The first, al-'Arada, was from the 'Abidah tribe in Marib and was killed in Afghanistan.
The second, al-Harithi, of course was killed by a US Predator drone in Marib in 2002.
The third, al-Midhar, was executed by the Yemeni government in 1999 for his role in kidnapping and the subsequent deaths of western tourists in Abyan.
The fourth and fifth I'm less certain of, but it seems, clear that these are also Yemenis who were either killed by the Yemeni government or by US forces. The fifth, al-Nihmi, is almost certainly from the al-Nihm tribe, which has its tribal territories north east of San'a.
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