Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan
Report dated January
(Abu al-Hassan was eventually executed)
ABU AL-HASSAN (full name: Zain
al-Abdin Abubakr al-Mihdar) is 32 years old and comes from an important tribe in Shabwa
province. He belongs to the salafi religious sect which has connections with wahhabism but
is very much a minority in Yemen.
He fought in
Afghanistan and on his return to Yemen became associated with the Jihad organisation which
included Afghan war veterans from various countries. It is not known when he first met Abu Hamza al-Masri, the London-based cleric and
leader of Supporters of Sharia (SOS), but they have certainly been in contact for several
years. Both were in Afghanistan and Abu Hamza is reported to have spent some time in Yemen
afterwards, as a refugee.
Abu al-Hassan claims to be the creator of the Islamic Army
of Aden-Abyan which began in a rather haphazard fashion about 1996 or 1997. Nothing was
heard of the group until 29 May 1998, when it issued the first in a series of
political/religious statements on Yemeni and world affairs.
For several months the official position of the Yemeni
government was (and to some extent still is) that the Islamic Army did not exist. However,
according to al-Wasat magazine (11.1.99) the authorities quietly tried to make
contact with Abu al-Hassan through tribal intermediaries. The aim seems to have been to
control him through incorporation into the political system, as had happened earlier with
Sheikh Tariq al-Fadli, who led an important section of Jihad. But Abu al-Hassan would have
none of it. He rejected all approaches and the government offered a reward of one million
riyals for information leading to his arrest.
His hostility towards the Yemeni government seems to stem
partly from his position as a member of a minority sect, but also from his view that
shari'a law is not applied properly in Yemen. On 8 November 1998, he called on all members
of the Yemeni parliament and Consultative Council to resign and demanded that President
Ali Abdullah Salih "surrender" and face trial in accordance with the shari'a.
The Islamic Army praised the attacks on US embassies in
Tanzania and Kenya in August 1998 as "an heroic operation carried out by heroes of
the jihad". It also announced its support for Usama bin Laden following the
Americans' reprisal raid on his camp in Afghanistan, called on the Yemeni people to kill
Americans and destroy their property.
It is not known what organisational links (if any) the
Islamic Army has with bin Laden, but it clearly has a number of other international
connections. Several foreigners are reported
to have taken part in the kidnapping of the 16 tourists on December 28 and one of those
killed in the rescue by Yemeni government forces was the Islamic Army's operational
leader, an Egyptian named Usama. Usama is said to have belonged to the Egyptian jihad
group formerly led by Dr Aiman al-Dhawahiri (who himself took refuge for a time in Yemen).
In general, though, foreign involvement in jihad activity
in Yemen has been decreasing over the last couple of years because of a tougher approach
by the security forces.