The Plot Thickens (Corrected)
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.
Yemen is a confusing place and of all the opaque places within the country my vote for the most confusing is Abyan.
This morning there was a robbery attempt on a government car on the road between Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan, and Ja'ar. Three men on motorcycles sprayed a car with bullets in an attempt to steal money. Mareb Press (Ar) and al-Tagheer (Ar) both have their own takes on the robbery attempt.
On the surface it looks like something AQAP may be behind, after all, they robbed a bank truck in Aden late last year, so why not this.
But now, al-Tagheer is out with a statement from jihadi leader Sami Dayan, whom it is calling a shaykh, condemning the attack and saying he and his men are innocent of the attack and will work to uncover the guilty parties.
Oh and just to make things a bit more interesting this is the same Sami Dayan who went on the Yemeni government's payroll back in January 2009 in a deal orchestrated by Vice President Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi, himself a native of Abyan. That deal was done the last time Abyan was really getting out of hand with jihadi violence and the government needed someone to negotiate with. I have no idea if he is still receiving money.
There is still a great deal that we don't know about the incident this morning, but it all comes down to who carried out the attack. Was it just common robbers (not unheard of)? Or was it AQAP?
Either way Dayan's statement is significant. If it was common robbers, this is a good way for jihadis to distance themselves from unpopular actions that hurt the general public. One way to get on everyone's bad side is to mess with the already restricted and limited electricity.
If it was AQAP then was this - along with last week's shooting in Ja'ar - further evidence of fissures in the jihadi movement.
It should also be pointed out that while Dayan is a jihadi and many of the jihadis in Ja'ar went or attempted to go to Iraq to fight, it is not clear if they have joined AQAP, by which I mean swearing an oath of allegiance to al-Wihayshi.
One final dollop to really muddy the waters. What would make Dayan put out a statement on this and not on any of the other incidents over the past several months? It is not as if people have been hurting for things to comment on in Abyan.
Correction: I mistakenly mangled the name of Yemen's vice president in the original post. That error has now been corrected.
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