The collapse of the Yemeni state into Sana’a and the redeployment of elite counter-terrorism units from al Qaeda strongholds to the capital created a power and security vacuum. Al Qaeda has benefited from this development in south Yemen. Islamist militants have demonstrated the capacity to take and hold territory from state control. These territorial gains increase al Qaeda’s operating space in Yemen.
Islamist militant groups took advantage of the situation and challenged local power structures in south Yemen, where al Qaeda already had strongholds. Though the Yemeni government has historically been quick to designate subversive elements as al Qaeda operatives, there are indications that some of the militant groups do subscribe to al Qaeda’s radical Islamist ideology and have some form of a connection to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP’s shari’a official, Abu Zubair Adil al Abab, held an audio interview in mid-April in which he claimed control of Jaar in Abyan. Jaar had fallen under the control of Islamist militants in March. Abab also noted that al Qaeda in Yemen introduces itself as “Ansar al Sharia,” or Supporters of Islamic Law, in the interview. The strongest militant group in Abyan governorate operated under this name by mid-June.
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