Sifting the Kidnapping News
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.
It seems clear from everything I have been able to put together from news reports, Yemeni officials I've spoken with and Yemenis back in Yemen that the 6 hostages are still unaccounted for.
Al-Quds al-Arabi is reporting that Yemeni forces are combing the region looking for the suspects and hostages. This is going to be incredibly difficult not only because of the geography, but also because the Huthis control much of that territory although not all, and it seems not the area where the nine where originally kidnapped.
Yemen has also offered a reward for information about the kidnapping, although in the past (say after the suicide attack in Marib in July 2007) these rewards have not motivated anyone to come forward with information.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat and al-Quds al-Arabi both do a fairly good job with a recap of yesterday's news, talking about the claims and counter-claims and general confusion that reigned. For those geography buffs out there - and I know there are a lot - you may notice a discrepancy in the spelling of Nashur in the Madabish/al-Jarabani article and al-Hammadi's front page article. The former spell al-Nashur without an alif between the nun and the shin while the latter has one. Although this is corrected in Khaled's more detailed story on page 4 the discrepancy sent me scurrying (yes, I scurry for grammar) across the room to my Mu'ajim al-Buldan of Yemeni tribes and places. (page 1736, vol. II for those following along at home.)
Not surprisingly, I found that the proper name is spelled without an alif although the nun does take the fatah, and according to my handy reference it is about 20 kilometers north of Sa'dah.
But the most interesting piece of the day is this one from News Yemen, which features friend of Waq al-waq Abdulihi Haydar Sha'a', who uses the article to jump start the conversation about AQAP's potential involvement on the jihadi forums.
Abdulihi is quoted quite extensively in the piece, saying that he does not believe that the kidnapping bears the marks of al-Qaeda, suggesting that the organization is more focused on combating western military forces. While he may be right that al-Qaeda is not involved - and I have a great deal of respect for his opinion - I don't think he is right to suggest that AQAP is primarily or even mostly focused on western military forces, the organization's targets in Yemen alone suggest otherwise.
The early responses on the forum echo his sentiments, suggesting that AQAP would not execute female hostages. I would like to add my own word of caution here. I had a very good and illuminating conversation with a Yemeni friend the other day and he expressed a great deal of concern over how these forums were being overrun (even more so than back in the day with al-Ikhlas, as these new forums rarely require passwords or accounts) with journalists who were writing stories based on the threads. I have to agree with him, much of what is posted in the threads is crap with no way of verifying the identity of the author. I remember a very good talk I attended by Will McCants in which he brought out a very convincing map illustrating that the largest concentration of visitors to these forums was in Washington DC.
The only thing I pay attention to (other than for my own amusement) are the official posts from AQAP the rest must be sifted through and weighed very carefully.
I think that given the coverage and speculation that has now seeped into the Arabic press about AQAP's potential involvement in the kidnapping the group will have to put out a statement one way or another, either confirming or denying its involvement. If it is the former, I imagine that the forums won't waste any time before falling in-line behind the official position.
(One other note of caution to journalists, when writing about Hassan Husayn bin 'Alwan - his name 'Alwan begins with 'ayn lam, the transliterated (a) (l) is not the definite article in this case and should not be treated as such when transliterating his name. It should be 'Alwan (if you are anal about transliterations like myself) or at the very least Alwan, but never al-Wan. Just a small pet peeve and since Brian isn't taking my calls to yell about Arabic transliteration I had to express it here.)
Abdulihi also repeats what many have been saying - including Guido Steinberg to the BBC - although the latter comes to a different conclusion, about the fact that Germany has a relationship with the Huthis by allowing Yahya al-Huthi to reside in Berlin. The article also has a bit of a throwaway quote at the end, giving space to accusations that the Huthis are now working with, or at least giving tacit encouragement to drug dealers in the region.
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