Shabwa Defense Forces (local media)

The Real Reasons Behind AQAP's Comeback in Shabwa


Tue, 14-06-2022 10:33 AM, Aden Time

Ibrahim Ali (South24)

AQAP again resumes its bloody attacks in the Southern governorate of Shabwa after its semi-complete inactivity during past years. On May 31st 2022 and June 1st 2022, AQAP launched two separate attacks against the Shabwa Defense Forces [1] in the capital city of Ataq and Mayfaa District in the same governorate. The two attacks led to killing and injuring a number of soldiers [2].

Although the latest AQAP's attacks surprised many observers who deemed that AQAP's inactivity in the governorate as part of the decline of power and influence, things don't go like this in light of two remarks. The first one is AQAP's position in the governorate over the past three years and the second is the governorate's status under its new leadership. 

Dangerous presence

The temporal convergence and the geographical distance between the two operations indicated that AQAP made adequate preparations for such forms of operations. The period between 2019 and 2021 in Shabwa [3] served as a golden opportunity for AQAP to make up for some losses caused by military operations against it in its most important bastion. Moreover, there have been consequences due to AQAP's disputes with ISIS. This has developed into armed confrontations in Al-Bayda governorate and other areas.

It can be said that AQAP over the past period has freely rearranged itself in the governorate away from any security concerns. However, the new reality which began to be formed in the governorate since the appointment of a new leadership for the local authority on December 15th 2021 has stirred AQAP's concerns and pushed it to try to impose Its special security reality by launching bold operations here and there. It is certainly sure that these operations don't denote a strong comeback by AQAP but they indicate feelings of concern as a result of losing its safe existence. This is attributed to several reasons including the appointment of a new governor, the return of Shabwa Defense Forces which were established from the governorate's citizens and the serious tendency to combat terrorism. In this regard, there is no exaggeration to say that the decision to replace the former governor was, even undeliberately, part of the combating terrorism operation as the governorate was about to become an AQAP's hotbed, especially after AQAP was subjected to high restrictions in the nearby Al-Bayda which served as its most important bastion during past years. 

The Muslim Brotherhood and AQAP

Despite talking about the relationship between AQAP and the Muslim Brotherhood often comes as part of political altercations among the local parties of the conflict along with exaggerations which make it lose credibility, this relationship is steady even it is somewhat different from what is being said. Although the last two Shabwa operations are not proof of this relationship, they are a result of it. AQAP, whose historical strongholds have been restricted in Al-Bayda, Abyan, Hadramout Coast and others, found an opportunity in Shabwa to rearrange its ranks during the Muslim Brotherhood's control over the governorate. 

AQAP's inactivity in Shabwa during past period (2019-2021) was not because it was busy in rearranging its ranks but because the governorate was at this time devoid of any of the organization's goals given that the forces there were working under the Muslim Brotherhood's administration (Islamic Islah Party). This is asserted by the transformation of the governorate into a starting point for the organization to carry out operations in the nearby governorates such as Abyan and Wadi Hadramout. the districts of Al-Mahfad, Mudeya, Lauder, Al-Wadi and Seiyun during that period.

Additional evidence

Unlike Yemen's Muslim Brotherhood who denies the existence of any relationship between them and AQAP, the latter admitted it repeatedly. In many occasions, AQAP's leaders admitted they fought along with the Muslim Brotherhood against their common enemy, the Houthis. In 2017, former AQAP commander, Qassem Al-Rimi stressed that they fought the Houthis along with the Muslim Brotherhood in more than one front [4]. The same thing was confirmed by the former AQAP's field commander Jalal Belaidy Al Marqashi in a video speech in 2016.

However, the relationship is not limited to the point of fighting a common enemy as there is big ideological and mental harmony between the two parties. Therefore, many students of the Iman University joined AQAP's ranks when the Islah Party announced "not to be dragged" into fighting the Houthis after the latter's control on the capital Sanaa in late 2014 [5]

What happened after that date was not unprecedented. Many AQAP commanders studied or graduated from the Iman University such as Tariq Al-Dhahab, Nasr Al-Ansi and others. Even other senior leaders including Nasser Al-Wuhayshi, Qassem Al-Rimi, Adel Al-Abab and Harith Al-Nazari graduated from Salaf centers whose ideologies are closer to the Muslim Brotherhood than the traditional Salafism. As the link between them is an ideological one, not just fighting against a common enemy, we found that the two parties engaged in joint battles using different tools against other Yemeni parties. By following and analyzing the narratives of the two parties, the Houthis are apparently a secondary enemy to them in comparison with other enemies.

Why the Shabwa Defense Forces?

In conjunction with the Giants Brigades' military operations against the Houthis in Beihan, Usaylan and Ain districts in Shabwa, Shabwa Defense Forces emerged to enhance security in the governorate. Despite the importance and the necessity of this security move amid the war's conditions, the Muslim Brotherhood's propaganda machine focused on attacking these forces claiming that they work for third parties that have ambitions in Yemen.

It is not a secret that Muslim Brotherhood's media was keen to confirm that the Shabwa Defense is the new name of the Shabwani Elite Forces who were responsible for the governorate's security file between 2016 and 2019 and implemented effective operations against AQAP in its most important bastions. Thus, AQAP launched operations against the Shabwa Defense Forces as a practical translation of the Muslim Brotherhood's incitement against these forces.

AQAP's future in the governorate 

Military and security operations against AQAP in Shabwa during 2016-2017 confirm that AQAP's defeat is not a difficult mission if there is a serious approach to defeat or eliminate it. Over the aforementioned two years, AQAP's conditions were much better than today contrary to the governorate's conditions at that time. However, the anti-terrorism operations ultimately expressed themselves to reveal the truth of previous wars which depicted AQAP as invincible forces. 

The most important is that AQAP lost the official incubator in the governorate after sacking former governor Mohammed Saleh Bin Adyo. The grassroot incubator didn't originally exist. What just happened is that the tribes had concerns towards seeing forces came from outside the governorate to their areas in the name of "war against terrorism". Their refusal position was classified as an alignment along AQAP. However, everything completely changed after the formation of security and military forces from within the governorate's citizens to carry out this task.

Accordingly, it can be said that AQAP lost all factors for its presence in the governorate. The security and the military battle against it will be fast and deceive. However, this does not mean that AQAP's ability to carry out limited operations here and there have been fully paralyzed.

Ibrahim Ali is a pseudonym of a researcher specialized in the armed groups affairs. He demanded anonymity for personal reasons.


1- AQAP didn't officially claim responsibility for carrying out these attacks. However, security sources believe it stood behind the two attacks, especially as they came one week after arresting a senior AQAP commander in Ataq. 

2- Shabwa: 14 Casualties in Two Explosive Attacks on the Southern Forces

3- In August 2019, forces affiliated with islamist (The Islah Party) controlled Shabwa with Saudi support after driving out The UAE-baked STC forces.

4- a video speech by AQAP's leader Qassem Al-Rimi in early February 2017 (seen by the author).

5- AQAP's Decline in Yemen: Abandoning the ideology amid a Leadership Crisis - Sana'a Center for Strategic Studies

South YemenShabwaAQAPMuslim BrotherhoodTerrorismSTCIslah