Foreign fighters for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
It’s not a surprise to those who follow terror groups to find that there are several groups of foreign fighters among Al-Qaeda in Yemen, particularly because Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen, was founded in 2009 by fusing Al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Al-Qaeda affiliates in Saudi Arabia into one umbrella organization.
However, what is important when talking about this is the unprecedented increase of foreign fighters while Al-Qaeda controlled the governate of Abyan, declaring it an Islamic Emirate at the end of 2010.
The number of fighters may not be known exactly, but their presence is a fact that can't be denied. The increasing number of foreigners killed fighting for Al-Qaeda during confrontations with the Yemeni military in Abyan and other areas indicates that new fighters infiltrate Yemen from time to time. For instance, at the end of 2011, apress reports indicated that about 300 Al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia left for Yemen. Moreover, well-informed sources in the Yemeni government said that they continue to come today.
Anyone following the foreign fighters knows what an essential role they play in the organization by providing it with experienced fighters and money. For example, the second-highest ranked man and the press officer for AQAP are foreigners, as are the most important explosives and bomb-makers.
Unlike previous periods in which foreigners roles were only to give money, participate in protests and present speeches, now they participate in all activities including carrying out suicide bombings.
Saudi fighters were the first to participate in such operations when Turki Al-Shahrani attacked a group of soldiers in Aden using a car bomb on June 24th, 2011.
Recently, Somalis have followed a similar pattern by joining AQAP beginning in June, 2012. This is dangerous because foreigners are often unknown to the Yemeni authorities which enable them to carry out operations easier than Yemenis.
To confront these problems and reduce their effects, better surveillance on Yemeni sea borders, oversight of visas granted and cooperation and better coordination with the regional and international community must be implemented.
Aish Awaws is Strategic Studies Program Manager at the Sheba Strategic Studies Center in the capital Sana’a.