Military plan to attack Abyan, returnees flee again

Published on 1 March 2012 in News
Fuad Mused (author)

Fuad Mused

The Abyan’s governorate’s office is still damaged and under the control of the armed men.

The Abyan’s governorate’s office is still damaged and under the control of the armed men.

ABYAN, Feb. 29 — Clashes have continued between the Yemeni army and what is known as Ansar Al-Sharia (‘supporters of sharia’) in Abyan governorate, particularly in its capital, Zunjubar, the central battlefield and  site of intermittent bloody clashes.

A number of internally displaced persons camped in Aden decided last January to return to their homes in Zunjubar, but found themselves faced with many challenges: the destruction of their homes, a lack of services, the outbreak of sporadic clashes and bombardments of the city.  

Wajdi Abdu, a Zunjubar local, said those people who returned to Zunjubar faced challenges that forced them to leave for Aden again.

One supporter of the Ansar Al-Sharia  group told the Yemen Times that the militants had provided returnees with essential services that could have allowed them to live in peace and safety, but that the renewal of military bombardments forced them to flee again to Aden and Jaar, the latter the town that the militants re-named “Qar Province.”

Contrary to what has been reported by media outlets about the attacks carried out by the militant groups and their existence in Zunjubar and neighboring areas, followers of Ansar Al-Sharia said the situation has not changed and that they still completely control the city.

One such follower told the Yemen Times that the group still has fighters, and that it is able to recruit new followers.

Concerning a military statement which said the city will be taken over within a week, he said they have gotten used to hearing such statements, and alleged that the military would not hesitate to take over the city one day if only it had the ability.

He further added that shells are continuously being launched by the army, and pointed out that followers of the group are prepared to face any confrontations and that they enjoy high morale.

The military, engaged in endless conflicts with armed men since last May, threatened this week to free the city through attacks that increased lately. It launched fierce strikes on Ansar Al-Sharia positions east and north of the city.

A Defense Ministry source told the Yemen Times that new president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi discussed with Defense Minister Mohammad Nasser Ahmed a plan to invade Abyan and evacuate militants in order to enable displaced people to return to their homes.

According to local sources, dozens of militants were left dead or wounded after violent shelling, artillery, and Katyusha rockets struck Ansar Al-Sharia positions.

For its part, the Ansar Al-Sharia group redeployed its forces in the city in preparation for possible confrontations. This came in light of recent developments, particularly the presidential palace incident in which over 20 soldiers were killed on Saturday. The incident came hours after Hadi vowed to fight Al-Qaeda. That raised concern amongst the armed group and pushed it to prepare for oncoming military operations. 

Local efforts were made in February to mediate between the authorities and Ansar Al-Sharia with the aim of easing the situation and enabling displaced persons to return, but those efforts failed due to disagreements concerning the management of security in areas controlled by the militant group.

Ansar Al-Sharia asked that security management be put under their control, but, according to local sources, the authorities refused.

Followers of Ansar Al-Sharia have tightly controlled the towns of Zunjubar and Jaar in Abyan governorate, as well as Shabwa’s Azzan area, since last June.

Local sources mentioned that Ansar Al-Sharia had executed three persons in two weeks - two Saudi nationals and one Yemeni, charged with betrayal and spying for the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The Ansar Al-Sharia “Waqar” court sentenced the three men to death. Other persons have been executed on charges of targeting followers of the group. On Tuesday, local sources from the town of Jaar told the AFP that the group flogged four other persons after the Waqar court issued sentences against them for drinking alcohol. The sentences were carried out in a public square in the town.

Back deported

The Egyptian newspaper Almasri Alyawam said that Yemeni authorities arrested six Egyptians two weeks ago as they attempted to join Al-Qaeda in south Yemen, and said that they had then been deported.

Sources told Almasry Alyawam that Yemeni authorities arrested six Egyptians as soon as they arrived at Aden Airport, having come from Saudi Arabia. It was also stated that they were arrested after authorities suspected they were attempting to join Al-Qaeda in Abyan.

The sources added that Yemeni authorities had contacted the Egyptian Consulate in Aden and that the six persons were at once deported to Cairo.

For his part, Egyptian Ambassador to Yemen Ashraf Aqal declined to comment on details, but affirmed that the embassy sometimes deports Egyptians accused of security cases without spelling out anything further.

Aqal told Almasry Alyawm that about 200 Egyptians had been deported in 2011 after being found attempting to illegally enter Saudi Arabia from Yemen, and pointed out that the law stipulates the imprisonment of such people for 1-2 years. He  added that he had agreed with Egyptian officials to charge $250 fines rather than imprison the men.