Jihadis talking in Yemen
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.
Earlier today Aaron Zelin over at Jihadology pointed me to a new release on the forums. Ansar al-Shariah, the group we first heard about earlier this spring in a talk by Adil al-'Abab, AQAP's chief cleric, has released its first publication.
The 3-page newsletter, which is dated from September and mostly deals with issues that took place during Ramadan is an intriguing new development in Yemen. The newsletter is put out by a group calling itself the Madad News Agency (lit: the Support News Agency - the English loses something, but the Arabic works - although there are some typos throughout).
There are a number of fascinating things present in the newsletter, and after a quick read through this morning I would highlight three:
1. As suggested by Abab's usage of the name "Ansar al-Shariah" earlier this year, this group appears to be quite close to AQAP, although it is careful, at least in this publication, to maintain the appearance of separation. In the newsletter there is both a denial that Wihayshi (the head of AQAP) had been killed, as well as comments from a media officer in the al-Malahim media wing.
(This newsletter was not put out under the umbrella of al-Malahim.)
2. The organization is both talking and apparently moving towards providing social services. The newsletter mentions providing food stuffs to citizens during Ramadan, which meshes with Abab's talk of the sewer problems back in the spring. AQAP has also, in my analysis, been moving towards being more sensitive to local concerns in recent years, particularly by providing teachers to isolated villages in 2009. This is more of the same.
3. Much like AQAP - and again I think Ansar al-Shariah is a subsidiary of that group - Ansar al-Shariah is doing much to get its message out. There are photos of young people being shown al-Malahim video productions. To me this is similar to the lectures Wihayshi used to set up with former Guantanamo Bay detainees, who would sit with young Yemenis across the country talking about their experience in Afghanistan and then in Guantanamo.
There is much more to talk about here, and I hope that people will be talking about it in the days to come. There is no need to go overboard like the media did when Inspire first appeared, but while this newsletter may be less dangerous at least initially to US security concerns for the homeland, I think it is actually more dangerous when it comes to long-term security concerns.
AQAP is evolving and changing and if the US and whatever government eventually emerges in Yemen is not aware of this fact and prepared to meet it, then things could go very wrong. The organization al-Qaeda is not necessarily going to stay in the analytical box - a terrorist organization only intent on destruction - we have prepared for it.
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