SANAA/DUBAI (Reuters) – An advance into Yemen’s Sunni Muslim heartland by Shi’ite Houthi fighters has galvanised support for al Qaeda among some Sunnis, deepening the religious hue of the country’s many conflicts, with potential consequences well beyond its borders.
Yemen’s tribal, regional and political divisions were widened by the rapid fall of the capital Sanaa to Houthi fighters on Sept. 21 after weeks of protests against the government and its decision to cut fuel subsidies.
“The Houthi expansion has created a sectarian problem,” said Bassam al-Barq, a Sunni Muslim resident of the religiously mixed Sanaa, attending a protest by local activists held every week to demand the Houthis quit the capital.
“It has created sympathy with al Qaeda, as we see in Ibb and al-Baydah,” Barq said, referring to two provinces in central Yemen where some local tribes have allied themselves with al Qaeda’s local wing, Ansar al-Sharia.
Ahmed al-Kalaz, a former Yemeni diplomat who comes from al-Baydah, agreed: “The expansion of the Houthis to al-Baydah has created a suitable environment for al Qaeda.”
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