AQAP members in the Coast of Hadramout 2015 (AQAP media)

Possible Reasons for AQAP's Comeback in Hadramout


Wed, 26-07-2023 10:03 AM, Aden Time

It can be said that the war on terrorism may witness its worst setback due to the Saudi policy despite what were achieved by the Southern forces

Ibrahim Ali* (South24) 

Although AQAP is not currently operationally active in Wadi Hadramout, this does not mean that Wadi Hadramout is devoid of its elements. In contrast, the cessation of the activity may be evidence of a strong presence of AQAP's elements in the Wadi's districts. During the past year, AQAP avoided activities in the governorates that provide it with safe havens. These hotbeds cannot be available without the presence and domination of parties that have coordination or understanding relationships with the group.

For example, AQAP's activities ceased completely in Shabwa and areas in Abyan which were under the control of the Islah Party in 2019 and 2020, backed by Saudi Arabia. AQAP itself admitted fighting with these parties, not against them. Previously, AQAP acknowledged that it fought within the ranks of the Islah on more than one front. [1] Likewise, AQAP attacked Southern forces and the UAE. It threatened to target them after driving the forces affiliated with the Islah Party out of Shabwa. AQAP leader Abu Ali Al-Hadrami referred to this in a speech in which he mentioned former Shabwa Governor Mohammed Saleh Bin Adyo by name. [2] Prior this date, AQAP had a presence in the governorate taking it as a starting point to carry out operations outside it as well as for recruitment and training purposes. However, AQAP did not implement any operations there because the forces controlling the governorate were not among its targets.

Although the readiness of the Southern forces to launch operations is similar to "the Arrows of the East", there is what looks like a Saudi veto.

Although Saudi Arabia was aware of AQAP’s presence in the areas under the control of the Islah Party, it had not taken any action against it. This is despite the Saudi realization that AQAP can benefit from the military support and weapons delivered to the Kingdom’s ally there. Therefore, the task of the Southern forces in Abyan and Shabwa was exceedingly difficult as they did not face AQAP alone. For example, confirmed information stressed that Saudi officials were infuriated by the operation “Arrows of the East” launched by the Southern forces under the instructions of STC President Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, in Abyan in August 2022.

Wadi Hadramout

The current situation in Wadi Hadramout is like what it was in Shabwa and Abyan years ago. All elements to replicate the same scenario are there. This includes the domination of parties affiliated with the Islah party on Wadi Hadramout in addition to a regional policy that ignores the impact of continuing this control on strategic Southern areas.

Sources told "South24 Center" that many AQAP elements who were in Abyan and Shabwa left them toward Wadi Hadramout after the Southern forces controlled Shabwa and cities in Abyan. Few AQAP elements remained in the two governorates to distract these forces from resuming their operations that aim at expelling AQAP completely from South Yemen.

Although the readiness of the Southern forces to launch operations similar to "the Arrows of the East", there is what looks like a Saudi veto against this kind of operations. In contrast, Saudi Arabia is keen on reinforcing the Islah's influence in Wadi Hadramout areas despite its realization that this would accordingly strengthen the influence of extremist groups, foremost of which is AQAP.

It can be said that the war on terror may witness its worst setback due to the Saudi policy despite what was achieved by the Southern forces in this regard.

It is not just related to military support. Over the recent period, Saudi Arabia nurtured the idea of local identities in Hadramout, Abyan and Shabwa which did not exist before. This kingdom supported it by establishing entities under the names of "council", "alliance" and others. In this aspect, Riyadh may go further. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia ignores that this can lead to a convenient environment for AQAP and other "terrorist" groups. Given that, it can be said that the war on terror may witness its worst setback due to the Saudi policy despite what was achieved by the Southern forces in this regard.

One cannot forget that Wadi Hadramout is among AQAP's important bastions. It witnessed the most heinous crime when AQAP's field commander Jalal Belaidy Al-Marqashi slaughtered 14 soldiers in 'Hawtat Al-Habib Zein" and filmed the crime. [3] In April 2015, AQAP seized control on the coast of Hadramout and announced Al-Mukalla as the group's governorate. [4]

Abkar and Batis

Last week, Islah leader Salah Batis was denied passage to Seiyun by a security checkpoint in Hadramout. This came hours after he appeared along with Islah Shura member Al-Hasan Abkar who is included in the US terrorist lists. [5]

Abkar is one of the figures who received Saudi support previously under the name of backing the resistance in Al-Jawf according to informed sources. During this period, AQAP had a large presence in the governorate. As usual, it had no activities there as the forces in Al-Jawf are not among its targets due to their affiliation to the Islah Party.

Sources told "South24 Center" that there are close ties between Al-Hasan Abkar and AQAP leaders, and he was designated by Saudi Arabia on this basis. In 2016, the US [6] imposed sanctions against two Yemenis and a charity in Yemen due to their alleged relationships with AQAP.

In a statement [7] on its official website, the US Treasury Department said that it imposed sanctions against Abkar, Abdallah Faysal Sadiq Al-Ahdal and the Rahmah Charitable Organization.

In 2014, Al-Hasan Abkar threatened [8] that the Jawf tribes would ally with AQAP if the Hadi regime continued its silence toward the Houthi military expansion. It is true that this threat came in the form of a warning against Hadi's policy and that AQAP will be the inevitable result of this policy. However, releasing these statements from a figure that has links with AQAP cannot be understood in this way.

Nonetheless, the most important question is what is about the secret behind Abkar's meeting with Salah Batis before the latter headed to Wadi Hadramout amid conditions and tensions experienced by the valley. In particular, Abkar is considered a military leader who has experience through commanding armed formations in the governorate under the name of the "National Resistance". One must note that Al-Jawf governorate borders Wadi Hadramout. 

Observers of these moves may speculate certain arrangements for a certain action in Wadi Hadramout. It is worth mentioning that in June 2016, AQAP leader Khaled Batis was killed by a US drone in Shabwa. [9] Khaled Batis is the brother of Salah Batis which makes the situation clearer. AQAP has had direct and indirect presence in the past and present of these two figures. Nonetheless, what is the reason behind the emergence of the two men's move now in this time in particular.


AQAP is apparently the most beneficiary from the attempt to prevent the Southern forces from moving forward towards Wadi Hadramout's areas which are controlled by the Islah Party.

It is common sense to say that this control will not be able to hold up even for one day without a supportive Saudi position. Accordingly, this enhances AQAP's presence. AQAP has a silent dangerous presence which does not disclose itself through operational activities. Thus, determining or estimating the power of the group and the level of its danger cannot be detected.

Does the Saudi leadership realize the lurking threats related to the latest Islamists' moves in Wadi Hadramout?

Without detailing how the terrorist groups and AQAP led by Osama bin Laden were established, there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia has a long history in the field of countering terrorism on its territories. It is also a strategic ally of the international coalition against ISIS. However, it is worth mentioning that Saudi Arabia was the starting point of AQAP's engineers and leaders (the Yemeni branch). Moreover, AQAP top leader Khaled Batarfi still holds the Saudi nationality. Does the Saudi leadership realize the lurking threats related to the latest Islamists' moves in Wadi Hadramout?

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

1- A speech delivered by its former leader Qasem Al-Rimi in 2017 commenting on the US landing operation in Al-Bayda in addition to a speech by its field leader Jalal Belaidy Al-Marqashi in 2016

2- Reading AQAP's Recording about the Latest Shabwa Events (South24 Center)

3- Details about slaughtering the 14 soldiers in Hawtat Hadramout narrated by the survived soldier.(

4- Yemen: AQAP seized a military location to control Al-Mukalla (DW)

5- Islah leader Batis was denied passage to Seiyun (

6- Counter Terrorism Designations | Office of Foreign Assets Control (

7- US puts sanctions on 2 men, charity in Yemen for AQAP ties | AP News

8- Islah leader in Al-Jawf threatened allying with AQAP accusing President Hadi of treason (

9- Yemeni sources to "South24 Center": The brother of Muslim Brotherhood leaders was killed by an air strike in Shabwa (

South YemenSouthern forcesAQAPCounter-terrorismSaudi ArabiaKhaled Batarfi