The civil war in Yemen, which began in 2011, has resulted in extreme chaos. This conflict occurred because the presidency was handed over to Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi by the former authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Hadi was unable to handle many of the issues that arose, including food shortages, corruption, unemployment, al-Qaeda’s control of the south, and the populace remaining loyal to Saleh. The Houthis, a Shiite tribe in northeastern Yemen, who had previously fought against Saleh, decided to exploit the government’s weakness and took control of the northern province and Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, and the areas surrounding it. Many ordinary Yemeni citizens joined the Houthis as well. With their growing power, the Houthis were able to put Hadi and many government officials under house arrest. They might have succeeded, but their endeavors finally caught the attention of Saudi Arabia and other states, due to the Shia Houthis’ intention to take control of the entire country. Pro-Hadi forces backed by the Saudi government were able to push back the Houthis from Sana’a and its other provinces after four months.
In the late 1980s, the Saleh government had been reinstating many Yemeni soldiers. One of these soldiers was Osama bin Laden, who had fought against the Soviet Union in the Afghan War. These soldiers – including bin Laden – were brought back to fight against the Marxist government that was implemented in southern Yemen. Bin Laden later began training a group that advocated for the domination of global jihad. That group of militants formed the group Islamic Jihad in Yemen, which lasted from 1990 to 1994, one of the groups that would eventually become Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Other groups formed were the Army of Aden Abyan, and al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQY). AQY was responsible for many attacks directed toward Western powers, including a bombing on the USS Cole which killed seventeen US soldiers, and the suicide bombing of French oil tanker M/V Limburg which killed one of the crew members. After 9/11, the Bush administration pushed the Saleh government to begin counterterrorism operations against AQY. A US drone strike conducted in 2002 killed the leader of AQY, Abu Ali al-Harithi. After his death, there was a large decline in membership in the organization. Around this time, the current AQAP started to form.
AQAP was able to benefit from the fractured political system by creating an insurgency in southern Yemen. Because the civil war had caused Western forces to withdraw from the area, as well as simultaneously focusing the Saudi government’s attention onto the Houthi rebels, AQAP was able to successfully take control of the southern provinces. By providing basic needs and integrating itself into the population, AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) has been able to control the provinces it seized. It has withstood arrests and attacks by implementing a “hierarchical, decentralized, and compartmentalized system.” In the regions it controls, it acts as a local government, collecting taxes from locals and providing protection from outside forces. A man living in the port city of Mukalla, an area controlled by AQAP, stated, “I prefer that Al-Qaeda stay here, not for Mukalla to be liberated. The situation is stable, more than any ‘free’ part of Yemen. The alternative to Al-Qaeda is much worse.” Along with governing the provinces it has seized, the organization also extorts money from international ships and imposes fees on their ports.
AQAP was formed after the remaining members of AQY (Al-Qaeda in Yemen) merged with 23 escaped terrorists from Sana’a Prison in 2006. Based on intelligence from 2014, there are an estimated 100,000 members of the organization. AQAP has carried out many attacks on others since 2006, including the assassination attempt of the Saudi prince Mohammed bin Nayef, suicide bombings aimed toward Japanese and Belgian tourists, and attacks on Italian and British embassies. The organization’s goal is to rid the world of Western influences and replace secular governments with Islamic regimes that implement Sharia law. To achieve this goal, AQAP aims toward overthrowing the government regime in Sana’a, assassinating members of the Saudi royal family and Western nationals, while also attacking the US homeland and embassies. For these reasons, many believe that AQAP is one of the more dangerous branches of Al-Qaeda.