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Al-Qaeda, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood Have a Hay Day in Yemen

rachel@shymanstrategies.com

rachel@shymanstrategies.com

 

Osama Bin Laden (right) had more than a few good reasons to pick Yemen as the best opportunity to create an Islamic state.

Yemeni President Saleh was swept away in the Arab Spring, though the rest of his regime remains intact. The power vacuum that already existed under his rule has grown larger and Iranian proxies, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood are all pouncing on the opportunity at hand.

Yemen is the one country where Al-Qaeda is clearly advancing. It has taken over Abyan Province, where it has instituted strict sharia law, going so far as to publicly lash four people 80 times for consuming alcohol. Apparently, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula decided to ignore Bin Laden’s advice to wait three years before moving forward.

Al-Qaeda recently declared Shabwa Province to be part of its Islamic Emirate and has 300 operatives in the town of Azzan alone. It is looking to grab the city of Mukallah in the province of Hadramaut. Its ranks have been reinforced with up to 800 operatives from Somalia, where the group’s affiliate, al-Shabaab, has been taking a shellacking.

At the same time, Iran is again sending arms to its Shiite Houthi allies in the north, including the advanced explosively-formed penetrators (EFPs) that the regime has sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. A “relatively small but steady stream of automatic rifles, grenade launchers, bomb-making material and several million dollars n cash” are flowing to the Houthis. The Iranians are also courting members of Herak, which seeks secession for the south.

Don’t underestimate the damage that the Houthis can do. In 2009, Iran waged a very bloody proxy war against the Yemeni government using them. The Saudis were forced to militarily intervene, prompting the Iranians to threaten to spread the war into the Royal Family’s land. With the current Yemeni government so weak, it could be easy for the Houthis to establish an enclave loyal to Iran.

Politically, the largest party by far is Islah, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Islah will dominate any free election that is held. Among its top leaders is Sheikh Zindani, who the U.S. accuses of being linked to Al-Qaeda. Islah supports establishing a religious police.

The Salafists have enormous political strength in Yemen and they often clash with the Houthis. It is very possible that they will form independent militias and religious police forces. After all, it just happened in Tunisia. The ruling Tunisian government even legalized the Salafist-formed religious police.

There’s no way to positively spin what is happening in Yemen. The country is ripe for the picking and Islamists of all kinds see it.

 

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