Tuesday 18 June 2024 - 04:17

Al-Qaeda in Yemen: What’s the Peninsula’s Ghost Threat Doing these Days?

Story Code : 1142302
Al-Qaeda in Yemen: What’s the Peninsula’s Ghost Threat Doing these Days?
The most important news published about this group over the past few months is the death of its former leader and appointment of a new one. However, naming a new leader was not that easy and it seems that Al-Qaeda in Yemen is hit by divisions and differences inside its leadership. 

Announcing the surprise death 

About four months ago, the Al-Qaeda in Yemen, or as some call Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQPA), in a surprise statement announced death of its leader Khalid Batrafi and naming of Saad bin Atef al-Awlaqi in Shabwa province as the "new emir." Al-Qaeda's official statement did not elaborate on the causes of Batrafi's death, but it was the first time that a senior Al-Qaeda leader had died of natural causes. In the past, the US was the first party to announce the assassination of Al-Qaeda leaders, as the case was with Naser al-Wahishi, Qassem al-Rimi, Usama bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri. 

Though appointment of al-Awlaqi as the new emir went smooth, at the same time reports emerged to talk about differences about his leadership. 

Batrafi and al-Awlaqi, the old rivals 

In February 2020, Al-Qaeda confirmed the death of its then leader in Al-Bayda province of Yemen. At that time, the leader of this group, Qassem al-Rimi, had been killed in an American attack on January 31, and his successor had to be chosen immediately. As Al-Qaeda stepped up its movements to name a new leader, the focus was on two key choices, al-Awlaqi and Batrafi. 

The initial replacements to al-Rimi both were targeted by the US State Department's "reward for justice" on their heads. American planes even dropped statements in parts of Al-Bayda to tell people how they can report their observations and receive cash.

In the meantime, inside Al-Qaeda the supporters of the two nominees were deeply polarized, and it took them nearly three weeks until the council reached a conclusion. Initially, the tip of the scale was in favor of al-Awlaqi. His rise to power was a natural extension of the Yemeni leadership of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and because of his proven track record in organizational communications, there was broad consensus among senior leaders about al-Awlaqi's leadership. 

However, things did not go as planned. With the merger of three influential factions in support of Batrafi, an alliance came to life, and the Saudi-Hadhrami alliance led by Hamad al-Tamimi on February 23 announced Batrafi leadership, starting with oath taking. These factions not only managed to tip the scale in favor of Batrafi, but also undermined al-Awlaqi's role in Al-Qaeda's decision-making. In other words, with assumption of power by Batrafi, al-Awlaqi was pushed to the sidelines. 

Suspicious death of the emir 

Meanwhile, Batrafi's heath deteriorated since November 2023. Normally, the top Al-Qaeda leaders are treated only by the group's medical committee, but if the condition is critical, the group transfers its leaders to the best hospitals near their safe shelter. This happened earlier in 2020, and when al-Rimi was transferred to areas outside the safe shelters of this group in Al-Bayda province for treatment, his whereabouts were actually revealed and he was exposed to the American attack and killed. Despite the apprehension of Al-Qaeda security officials about this option and their efforts to treat Batarafi in the shelter, they had to transfer him twice to a hospital outside the group's safe shelters due to liver problems in the last four months before his death.

Though treatment was success in the first stage, it met a failure as it continued and Batrafi lost his life. The takeover of power by al-Awlaqi, analysts agree, will put Al-Qaeda in a new path. 

Al-Awlaqi as emir

Power transition in AQPA showed that this terror organization still has a considerable level of activity. 2024 will be a transitional period for this organization during which al-Awlaqi will focus on three priorities. Firstly, he will undertake the vital parts of Al-Qaeda, especially the central command which contains the emir plus 6-8 other leaders, the executive committee, and the emirs of regions and provinces. Al-Awlaqi either has to win loyalty of the current leaders or appoint new leaders loyal to him. 

Secondly, Al-Awlaqi will try to repair strained relations with social and tribal groups in Yemen, especially in Abyan and Shabwah provinces. One of the reasons for al-Awlaqi's objections to Batrafi's approach to resuming military operations in the south was that he believed that military operations in the south would put Al-Qaeda in direct conflict with the tribes. In addition, during Batrafi's era, Al-Qaeda kidnapped a number of foreign nationals, and now this is a challenge for the new emir of this organization . 

Thirdly, during this transition period, al-Awlaqi is likely to avoid taking any ultimate positions on a number of key issues, the most important of which is his relationship with Saif al-Adl, another prominent Al-Qaeda leader. Al-Awlaqi would be the first leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen to not know exactly who to pledge allegiance to as the legal emir of global A-Qaeda, as Saif al-Adl's status is yet to be officially announced. It is likely that al-Awlaqi will not challenge the legitimacy of Saif al-Adl's leadership in the main organization of Al-Qaeda. Anyway, Al-Awlaqi respects him a lot and considers him the natural continuation of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri's path and has never questioned his position as the general emir of Al-Qaeda. 

Furthermore, it is unlikely that al-Awlaqi will pick an open fight with the powerful Ansarullah Movement. Still, he will gradually try to engage in a confrontation with the movement. 

And finally, al-Awlaqi will not do any change to the military policy of this organization in other regions. He will very likely avoid opening a front against the Saudi-loyal security and military forces in Aden, the seat of the Arab coalition-backed fugitive government.