Interview with Ansar Al-Sharia Leader in Abyan, Jalal Baleedi Al-Murqashi
Fierce clashes broke out a few weeks ago in Lawdar, Abyan governorate between Al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar Al-Sharia, the Yemeni military and several people’s committees, local groups established to fight against Ansar Al-Sharia.
Unlike in previous clashes, Ansar Al-Sharia was unable to hold Lawdar, giving the new Yemeni government hope that it could retrieve cities it had lost through a succession of defeats last year. The Lawder battle has raised questions about Ansar Al-Sharia’s ability to maintain control over military camps and cities.
Nonetheless, the people’s committees and ground forces, backed by Yemeni, American and Saudi warplanes, were unable to remove the Ansar Al-Sharia’s hold on Lawdar.
The Yemeni government believes that Lawdar will be the starting point to recapturing Abyan governorate, much of which Ansar Al-Sharia has controlled since last year. Sanaa is utilizing all of its military forces and weapons to accomplish this goal. Ansar Al-Sharia, by contrast, thinks it can retain its grip on Lawdar.
While it is difficult to predict the outcome of ongoing clashes in Lawdar, as Ansar Al-Sharia continues to storm the city despite government forces’ determination to drive them completely out, a look at previous clashes provides some indication of the direction in which the conflict may go.
This is what this interview attempts to uncover with Jalal Baleedi Al-Murqashi, Al-Qaeda’s commander of Abyan governorate, or “emirate of Abyan,” as Al-Qaeda calls it. I met Al-Murqoshi on May 4, 2012 in the port of Shuqra in Khanfar district, Abyan, which is held by Ansar Al-Sharia.
Why Lawdar now?
Whoever observes what is happening in Lawdar knows that this issue didn’t arise abruptly, but rather developed gradually with the passing of time.
I lived in Lawdar two years ago. We used to live peacefully and harmoniously, supporting each other. We avoided confrontation with the military and its mercenaries, until they stooped to new levels, publicly executing a Lawdar resident named Waleed Al-Zubairi. They have committed other despicable acts, breaking into people’s homes and arresting residents on the pretext that they belong to Ansar Al-Sharia. These are Lawdar’s issues.
We chose not to fight in several areas of Abyan because they were wise enough not be deceived by the Yemeni military and Saudi intelligence. They didn’t fight us, so we didn’t fight them in return. We don’t fight simply for the sake of fighting, and this point must be understood.
If people in areas you hold have a good view towards you, why do they fight you?
This question supposes a fact that does not exist. Earlier, I mentioned that those people who fight us have personal or partisan interests with the Yemeni state and other external parties. These groups don’t represent their tribes.
For instance, soldiers in civilian clothes were fighting us in Shuqra ten months ago, and among them we killed prominent military officers, whose names were published later on.
Now mercenaries supporting the military with all its tanks and artillery are fighting us, but they don’t represent the tribes. We contacted several tribes, Al-Awadhel tribes for example, and they frankly affirmed that they aren’t involved in the clashes, either directly or indirectly.
Though you have controlled several areas in Abyan easily, you failed to hold Lawdar. Why?
War isn’t a game. It took more than a year of continuous ferocious clashes in the emirate of Zinjibar to destroy military brigades there. Only patient people who take enough time win a victory.
Is Ansar Al-Sharia’s rise linked with Saleh’s leaving power, given that he is accused of conspiring with Al-Qaeda by handing military camps over to them?
It seems that you believe the poor tales which describe Saleh as a peg to hang everything on. War conditions in Lawdar are different: we are doing our best to ensure that the vulnerable people, whom the military and its mercenaries are using as human shields, are not hurt.
It is said that if you fail to control Lawdar, the people’s committees will succeed in taking Abyan governorate entirely. Is this true?
It is an illusion to think that we are simply an armed group; we are bigger than that. We are an inseparable part of the Yemeni people that can’t be erased.
Who are the people’s committees and who supports them?
It is very clear that the people’s committees are fighting alongside the military, particularly the 111th brigade. The Yemeni military is under the direction of the American ambassador in Sana’a, even in matters of subsistence allowance, according to his declaration a month ago.
Did you try to negotiate with the people’s committees in Lawdar? Or do you wish to do so?
A delegation of tribal sheikhs and public figures have already come to us and offered to mediate between the people’s committees and us. For our part, we put forth two conditions: withdrawal of the military from Lawdar and implementation of the laws of Islamic Sharia. The sheiks conveyed our demands to the committees but they rejected them, saying that they can’t implement the laws of Islamic Sharia in Lawdar.
What do you think will happen in Lawdar in the future if you fail to hold control of it?
You always assume that we will lose, but I tell you that had we failed today, we would have failed long ago. We don’t fight only with weapons; Allah is always with us. We have nothing to lose; we are ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of Allah.
In line with the teachings of Allah, we have revolted against this longstanding bad situation in Yemen, seizing the opportunity of the Arab Spring to revolt and liberate the country from the corrupted central government. All people believed us and now all attest that we help the needy, feed the hungry and soften their woes. I’m sure that Allah will never let us down.
People believe that you want to control an area, the residents of which reject you. Don’t you think that is an occupation?
You talk about us as if we came from another planet. In fact, most of the jihadists in Lawdar belong to the area and you yourself visited them. The real occupiers are the military forces in Lawdar.
A few years ago, the forces were killing Lawdar residents for no reason. The story of the Al-Jadena family last year still sticks out in people’s minds: Forces affiliated with the 111th brigade killed and burned eight of them at a security checkpoint near the electricity station until they turned to ashes. People don’t forget such things and neither do we.
Won’t your failure to control Lawdar encourage people in other areas to revolt against you?
Several people in Abyan, Shebwa, Baida’a and Hadramout governorates want us to be there, so that we apply the laws of Islamic Sharia and maintain security. People in those areas love us and now we have become a part of them. They realized that we are honest and fair.
People are tired of fighting aimlessly and they understand the consequences of fighting with a distinct group like us, which believes in its aims and does its best to achieve them.
What can you do with the people’s committees, Yemeni military and the Southern Movement fighting you on land, and with the Yemeni, Saudi and American warplanes fighting you in the air?
Those who say that are hypocrites, who don’t know how Allah manages war with his followers. This question must be asked to that odd combination of disparate parties that is fighting against Allah and His devotees.
For a whole year, these forces have been fighting in Zinjibar, utilizing all their equipment, but what did they achieve? They stood helpless in front of our fighters, who fight to apply the laws of Islamic Sharia.
Allah says in the Holy Qur’an, “But those who were certain that they would meet Allah said, ‘How many a small company has overcome a large company by permission of Allah? And Allah is with the patient.’”
I know that not many people will understand what I’m saying because only people of faith can understand it. The military forces ought to learn from the lessons of Zinjibar: how the military brigades there were destroyed because they fought without principles and doctrine.
You have lost control over Lawdar and have started to lose control over Zinjibar too. Can we say that the countdown of Ansar Al-Sharia’s presence in Abyan has started?
You talk about failure as if you have full knowledge and are well acquainted with all things. The figures from these clashes are totally different. Lawdar is still under siege and the military and its mercenaries couldn’t do anything with all their warplanes, artillery, wiliness and money. So, they involved the Americans to supervise and manage the war, according to the media.
In Zinjibar, for instance, the jihadists attacked several battalions and looted all their military equipment. They killed dozens and arrested many others of them, similar to what happened in the Al Kowd area.
So what failure are you talking about? Away from the false and astronomical figures mentioned by media, which reported that people from Ansar Al-Sharia were killed. I hope the rumors don’t affect you because you are an independent journalist who takes his information from the field and not from the media.
But you lost 200 fighters among them prominent leaders in clashes in Lawdar?
As I told you, these are false numbers used to boost the soldiers’ morale, but in the end all people will know the truth. What is important is the progress in battlefield not what the media say.
Why do you win battles with the military and lose against the people’s committees?
What committees are you talking about?! You have a wrong idea. Several times, I said that we didn’t fight against any tribesmen. All we are fighting against are groups that belong to political parties, groups that have their own interests; they don’t represent their tribes.
We are tribesmen and we have many tribal relatives and we move easily among them. All people know that our battle is against America and the military and its mercenaries who support them.
Why do Southern Movement members fight against you?
This is the strangest thing I have ever seen. Those separatists, who caused us headache, complaining about the northern occupation forces and the military in the Sana’a, are fighting alongside them now. However, our battle isn’t against them even though they joined the battle in Lawdar.