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Al-Qaeda in Yemen 'fighting alongside Sunni brothers' against Houthis Open in fullscreen

Paola Tamma

Al-Qaeda in Yemen 'fighting alongside Sunni brothers' against Houthis

A car bomb attack by AQAP leaves 11 dead near Mukalla, July 2016 [AFP]

Date of publication: 4 May, 2017

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The leader of al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula released a statement this week claiming that its militants are aligned with an array of forces in the complex conflict.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is fighting "alongside all Muslims in Yemen", including "the Muslim Brotherhood and also our brothers among the sons of [Sunni] tribes," Qasim al-Raimy, the group's leader announced from an unknown location in Yemen.

Although al-Raimy did not elaborate what he meant by 'alongside' his statement is taken to mean that AQAP supports local militias backed by a coalition of nine majority Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia, in their fight against ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi rebels.

The Saudi-led coalition is backed by the US and the UK. In March and April alone the US reportedly carried out 80 air attacks with jets and drones, more than double the total for 2016.

Since the bombing campaign begun in March 2015, the UK has supplied £1.7 billion ($2.2 billion) in value for combat aircraft, and over £1 billion ($1.3 billion) for air-delivered bombs.

AQAP has carried out terrorist attacks against both sides in the conflict. However the situation on the ground is much more nuanced. According to conflict analysts, Yemen's government has a history of secretly working with AQAP, using it for its own means.

It did so under Saleh and it appears to have continued under Hadi.

When AQAP left the Southern city port of Mukalla in April 2016, the Saudi-led coalition declared it a success. But reports say there was no fighting. Instead, Hadi's government negotiated with al-Qaeda fighters, allowing them a safe passage out of the city.

The US intervention's stated goal is to kill AQAP leaders. The US currently offers a $5 million bounty for the capture of Qasim al-Rimy. Having al-Raimy's militants fight on its side would be highly embarrassing for the US and its allies.

The US-drone campaign, which killed at least 600 people since it started in 2011, has fuelled a sentiment of anti-Americanism among the civilian population.

AQAP exploited the power vacuum created by the conflict and took over swathes of land, especially in the south and southeast. 

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