Friday Papers: Arrest in Marib
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.
Both al-Tagheer and News Yemen are reporting that Yemeni security forces have arrested a young al-Qaeda suspect in Marib.
Al-Tagheer gives us his initials, age (25) and place of residence (al-Qatn, Hadramawt) - this is where a number of individuals involved with Hamza al-Qu'ayti's cell, which was destroyed in August 2008, were from.
News Yemen has this information, as well as telling us that negotiations were responsible for the surrender of Muhammad al-Haniq this week in 'Amran. The details of the negotiations are, of course, not revealed.
I did six questions for Harpers, which is available here.
Sudarsan Raghavan for the Washington Post has another good article on Yemen, but I would quibble with his characterization of al-Wahayshi's speech back in May:
"In May, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate alleged to have masterminded the attempted bombing of an American jet on Christmas Day, declared its support for the southerners' demands for a separate state. The group's leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, promised to avenge the "oppression" faced by southerners."
I have long taken issue with this characterization of the audio tape, but be forewarned: I am in the minority among western analysts on this issue. I wrote about the speech when it came out here.
Basically, my argument is that the piece is much more of an appeal for loyalty among individuals in the south than it is support of the idea of secession.
Finally, our new friends over at The Majlis have a blog post up on AQAP and its history, linking to a post by Leah Farrell, whom I don't know but who many people I do know respect. Her post on the subject is here.
Her point as I understand it, and as summarized by the Majlis, is that AQAP is not new but rather a continuation of the group that operated in Saudi Arabia in 2002/03-2006. Since I have long argued that this particular incarnation of AQAP got its start with the February 2006 prison break in San'a, I felt it was necessary to respond.
I can see where she would draw this conclusion from and, in fact, AQAP as we know it today in Yemen would like to claim that it is a continuation of that earlier group and it uses much of the material written by that group as guidelines, but many of the individuals are different. Certainly, there are individuals that were involved in the original AQAP in Saudi Arabia that are also involved in the current AQAP in Yemen. How many of these, I can't say and I would defer to someone like Thomas Hegghammer, who knows much more than I do about al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.
What I would say is that there were few Yemenis involved in the original AQAP in Saudi Arabia while there are, of course, a number of Yemenis involved in AQAP in Yemen. Also much of the leadership of the current organization was not active in the original group.
Nasir al-Wahayshi: late 1990s-2002 Afghanistan
2003 in Iran
Nov. 2003 - Feb. 2006 in a Yemeni prison
Said Ali al-Shihri: 2001 - 2007 in Guantanamo
Qasim al-Raymi: late 1990s - 2001 Afghanistan
2002/03 - Feb. 2006 in a Yemeni prison
Ibrahim al-Rubaysh: 2001-2007 in Guantanamo
This version - and I would stress that it is a version or a new incarnation of the group - has also worked hard to avoid some of the mistakes made by the original AQAP in Saudi Arabia, most notably limiting Muslim civilian casualties in their strikes. There is much more of a targeted strike quality to their attacks now then there were earlier. Additionally, I think the way the group's history in Yemen has developed since 2006 suggests that this is a new version.
So, in short, if one thinks that new personalities make an organization new then one is likely to side with me in thinking that this is a new incarnation/version of the group whereas if one thinks that a shared ideology and founding documents and a similar name - an attempt by the group, I think, to link itself to the earlier group - suggest continuity then one is more likely to side with Leah in thinking that AQAP is just a continuation.
Assuming, of course, that I have not misrepresented anyone's arguments.
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