AQAP and the al-Awaliq Tribe

Early yesterday morning I woke up, fired up the computer, and began skimming through the news from Yemen. One of the first articles that caught my attention was this piece from News Yemen, explaining that AQAP had sent a letter to the al-Awaliq tribe imploring them not to cooperate with the Yemeni government against them.

Interesting, but I'm a guy who likes more than a couple of quotes, so I opened up another window and got on to some of the jihadi forums where AQAP usually posts its statements. But, and here is where it gets interesting, there was no statement. I skimmed down the page. Nothing. A bit frustrated I logged on to another forum. Same story.

I went back to the News Yemen article and found the problem. The entire story was based on a SITE Intelligence Group report. Now, I don't know a lot about SITE and I don't use it - I'm a poor struggling student after all - but I do know a number of journalists who rely on the organization for translations of al-Qaeda statements. With that in mind, I spent a bit more time surfing through the forums but still came up with nothing.

This morning, the New York Times, used the same SITE report in this article. So back to the forums and again nothing.

Here is what I think happened. SITE found a thread in one of the forums from somebody (or somebodies) identifying themselves as members of AQAP and the al-Awaliq tribe, and thought it looked interesting and translated the message. The only problem is that it wasn't an AQAP statement.

This, I think, is an incredibly important point. Right up there with making sure the US and Yemeni government identify exactly who is and who is not a member of AQAP.

There are a lot of people in Yemen that look (big bushy beards) like al-Qaeda and sound (screeching rhetoric about shariah law) like al-Qaeda, but aren't actually members of al-Qaeda (that is individuals that have sworn an oath of allegiance to Nasir al-Wihayshi). This is important because if the US and Yemeni government start fighting everyone who looks like they might be a member of AQAP then they are fighting a war they can't win. Simply put, there would be too many people. They have to limit the fighting only to those who are sworn members of the organization. That problem is bad enough without going out and creating new, shooting enemies where none existed.

AQAP is incredibly protective of its brand, a point they have made over and over. This is how someone like Qasim al-Raymi gets to go on camera and say "trust us" for the news about AQAP. This is how they get away with constantly calling the Yemeni government out on its "lies" and shadings of the truth. Precisely because AQAP is so careful with the statements it releases.

The only AQAP statements are those released through al-Malahim. This was not. Now, I'm not faulting SITE for translating the forum post, as far as I could tell on their website (based on my non-subscriber status), SITE identified the forum post along the lines of how the author of the post described himself. But I think they owe their subscribers (many of whom don't speak Arabic and/or don't understand the forums) more detailed information about this post.

That is, specifically pointing out that it is not an official AQAP statement and that it could have been from anyone. Anyone with a computer and knowledge of Arabic could have written it - it is like any internet chatroom - the attractive woman you think you are speaking with could easily be a 40-year-old unemployed Wall Street guy.

Now, do I think AQAP would prefer that the al-Awaliq tribe not work with the government? Yes, certainly a statement like this would be in keeping with what AQAP has said in the past. But this wasn't an AQAP statement and it is best if we don't go treating it like one. There is enough confusion about the situation in Yemen, without people who are supposed to be on the side of the good guys muddying the waters further.

I was going to post a bit on the al-Awaliq tribe, the new Awakening movement in Shawa, and Anwar al-Awlaki, but this post has went on too long, so I'll save those thoughts for a bit later.

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