As if Yemen did not already face enough political, social and economic challenges in the midst of a multi-sided civil war, there are significant and not unreasonable fears in the Yemeni opposition that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has manufactured a new conflict between the state and al-Qaeda in Abyan governorate designed to ensure Western support for his continued rule. Many Yemeni political and military leaders insist the bitter and ongoing battle for the coastal city of Zinjibar (capital of Abyan governorate) is merely the culmination of a decade long policy of manipulating the al-Qaeda threat.
Yemen’s Defense Ministry claimed two prominent al-Qaeda operatives, Ayid al-Shabwani and Awad Muhammad Saleh al-Shabwani, were killed in fighting on July 20, though both had been reported killed in the past (26 September.net, July 20; Reuters, July 21). At the same time, reports emerged from Zinjibar of a rift between two factions of militants, the Ansar al-Shari’a and a second faction of local Abyan fighters (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 20). Two days later, tribesmen prevented a convoy of militants from reinforcing their colleagues in Zinjibar, killing one militant and arresting ten others on the main highway leading to the city (Reuters, July 22).