Throught a Glass Darkly
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.
I've said this before, but sometimes things bear repeating. Plus, I don't always have new ideas. But I think an incident from today in Shabwa illustrates the difficulties of assigning blame for violent acts in Yemen and determining what exactly is going on in the country.
Through the luck of the click - during a work break today - I read three separate Arabic news briefs on the same incident, all of which had a slightly different take.
The first one was an article from al-Tagheer, which has now been up-dated, stating that a military officer, Ali al-Thawaba, was killed by gunmen today in Ataq, the capital of Shabwa.
Of course given the current environment in Shabwa, one's first thought on unknown assailants gunning down a military officer is that it was al-Qaeda.
Not so fast. The next article, from Mareb Press, says that not only was Ali al-Thawaba killed but his son was wounded. But Mareb Press attributes it to a case of tribal revenge.
After that News Yemen fills in some of the details, reporting that al-Thawaba is from al-Jawf, and is a member of the Daham tribe from Dhu Muhammad, but they come to a different conclusion, suggesting al-Qaeda. A conclusion the AFP feels comfortable running with.
Now, I have no idea what the truth of the various claims are. It easily could have been a case of tribal revenge, an al-Qaeda attack, or even something else entirely.
My point is this: the details of events are important. There is a lot of violence in Yemen and not all of it is related to al-Qaeda. In Yemen it is important to remember that just because something (to us on the outside) looks like al-Qaeda, sounds like al-Qaeda and, at times, acts like al-Qaeda doesn't necessarily mean it is al-Qaeda. Violent acts in murky places are difficult to analyze, which is why most people I respect on Yemen still say they are struggling to figure out exactly what is going on in Abyan and Shabwa. The picture is far too muddy for the type of cut-and-dried analysis most want.
Finally, I know there are a number of comments/questions in the comments section of Waqal-waq that I have yet to address. My apologies. I have no real excuse other than the fact that I control my own schedule and my time management skills are not what one would call immaculate. I will get to them, it just may take some time. Thanks for your patience.
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