Jihadists from the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered by the United States the most dangerous branch of the terrorist group, have fought alongside U.S.-backed Yemeni factions, claims the leader of the organization.
The United States has placed AQAP chief Qasim al-Rimi on its most-wanted list, offering a $5 million reward for his capture.
Al-Rimi alleges that AQAP terrorists have linked up with the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Associated Press (AP) reports routinely receives military support from the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition.
Citing AQAP media arm al-Malahem, AP quotes the jihadist leader as saying, “We fight along all Muslims in Yemen, together with different Islamic groups.”
Al-Rimi reportedly added that “his followers have teamed up with an array of factions — including the ultraconservative Salafis, ‘the Muslim Brotherhood and also our brothers among the sons of (Sunni) tribes’ against Yemen’s Shiite rebels known as Houthis.”
Al-Rimi did not elaborate on what exactly fighting “alongside” meant but al-Qaida has emerged as a de facto ally of the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his backers [U.S.-backed] Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against the Houthis in a grueling civil war that has wreaked devastation, caused widespread hunger and killed more than 10,000 since late 2014.
As a result of mainly focusing on combating the Iran-backed Shiite Houthis, the Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United Sates, has allowed AQAP to exploit the chaos and flourish.
The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has also established a branch in Yemen, but it remains smaller than its AQAP rivals.
In its report, AP echoes comments by Thomas Joscelyn, an expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) who told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March:
Most of AQAP’s insurgency organization, including its middle management, has not been systematically targeted. Therefore, the organization as a whole has not been systematically degraded. AQAP still threatens the West, but most of its resources are devoted to waging the insurgency and building a state inside Yemen.
Some tribal leaders are closely allied with AQAP, so much so that they have been integrated into the organization’s infrastructure. This has led to an awkward situation in which some of AQAP’s leaders are also partnered with [U.S.-backed] Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Hadi’s government in the war against the Houthis.
The FDD expert warned that AQAP is intent and capable of building an Islamic state inside Yemen.
“Over the past decade, the terror group has built up ties of one degree or another with the country’s many tribes – and has often used anger over civilians killed in American airstrikes to gain recruits,” explains AP.
“The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis are some of the key militias on Hadi’s side, and regularly receive funds and weapons from the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition,” it continues.
Since March 2015, the Saudi coalition has been fighting against the Houthis to restore to power the internationally recognized Yemeni President Hadi, who lost the capital to the Shiite rebels.