African militants learn from Al Qaeda in Yemen
Somalia’s Al Shabaab is sending fighters to aid Al Qaeda in Yemen. They are returning as trained terrorists.
Yemen, a stone’s throw from Somalia, has for years been the destination of choice for impoverished Somalis fleeing their troubled state.
Now, another kind of Somali is heading to Yemen, and it appears to be swelling the ranks of Al Qaeda.
Somalis belonging to the militant group Al Shabaab have been coordinating with Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for several years. Al Shabaab sends them fighters who, in a worrisome development for counterterrorism experts, often return with bomb-making expertise that can be used all over Africa.
In March of this year alone, “Al Shabaab sent around 300 Somali militants to Yemen at AQAP’s request,” said Aysh Awas, director of security and strategic studies at Sheba, a think tank in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital.
The guerilla fighters were shipped off to help Al Qaeda in its intensifying struggle against the Yemeni army in southern Abyan province. Al Qaeda wrested Abyan from the government during last year’s political turmoil and managed to maintain control over it for about a year.
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Awas told GlobalPost there are now two types of Somali militants coming to Yemen.
The first group consists of refugees who initially fled “the hell in Somalia to seek better economic opportunities in Yemen, but end up being financially exploited and recruited by AQAP,” he said. Somalis are the only nationality granted automatic refugee status in Yemen, which now hosts more than 200,000 of them. Ten thousand Somali refugees have arrived this year alone, according to a June survey by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The other group is made up of “prepared-recruited members of Al Shabaab,” he said. Many of them arrived following the February inauguration of the country’s new President, Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi.
Hadi, who is tasked with unifying the shattered country and reforming its deeply corrupt military ahead of multiparty elections in 2014, has partnered with Washington in the fight against AQAP.
Yet despite the joint military campaign in which American special forces train troops on the ground and US-controlled drones target militants from the sky, Al Qaeda has continued to make advances in Yemen, in part due to the help of Somali militants.
Last spring, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula formed a Taliban-like arm called Ansar Al Shari’a which seized several strategic cities along the Gulf of Aden. The move came as popular protests engulfed the central government in Sanaa, ultimately unseating