Q) The number of Al-Qaeda members in Yemen’s south, east, and center is estimated at around 350. What is in your estimation at present?
A) Regarding those who are known to be from Shabwa, they number is no more than seven people. But recently, that is, before the strike (by the Yemeni planes on Al-Qaeda base in Shabwa last month), groups were coming from Marib and Abyan and they included foreign elements, Saudis and Egyptians.
Q) Based on the information you have, how many Egyptians and Saudis are among Al-Qaeda’s groups that moved to your area recently?
A) Dozens. There are Egyptians and Saudis in Al-Qaeda in Yemen. There are dozens. This is in addition to the elements that came from Marib and Abyan and also the number of those from Shabwa who joined them.
Q) Do you have anything which indicates that these groups are still in these areas, especially Jabal Kur?
A) The information indicates that they are probably in Jabal Kur, between Abyan and Shabwa.
Q) Do you have evidence that suggests that Egyptians and Saudis operating under Al-Qaeda’s banner here came from Afghanistan and other countries where they are wanted?
Q) Are there Egyptian elements that belong to Al-Qaeda here?
A) We have no Egyptian names, but as for Saudis, we know that (former Guantanamo prisoner Said Ali) Al-Shihri is among them. He was in the area between Al-Muajjah and Rafad areas and in Kur ones near Abyan Governorate. He is still there.
Q) Regarding al-Qaeda members linked to terrorist activities against US interests, among them Anwar al-Awlaki, Fahd al-Qasa, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi. Many are speculating about their whereabouts after the Yemeni raid in Shabwa on 24 December. Do you have information about these leaders and their whereabouts at present?
A) Anwar al-Awlaki (suspected by the Americans of having links with Nidal Hasan who killed 13 soldiers at Fort Hood base in the United States and with Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab who tried to blow up an American plane on Christmas eve) is so far still in the Shabwa Governorate. Fahd al-Qasa (tried previously and sentenced for his connection with the targeting of the US destroyer USS Cole in Aden Port in 2000 and is the third wanted person by the American FBI after Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri), is with him and also a number of elements from Shabwa are with them. They are moving in the mountains and do not settle in any specific place. They are expelled by the citizens wherever they go who refuse to have them remain among them. There is another group in the Jabal Kur area and they are moving in it with a group from Abyan. All of them are Al-Qaeda followers. Nasser al-Wuhayshi (leader of Al-Qaeda Organization in Arabian Peninsula) is with them. He is from Abyan Governorate and still alive after escaping from the recent Yemeni raid.
Q) But some are speculating that some leaders, especially Al-Qasa, were killed. Is the latter important for the Al-Qaeda organization if he is still alive?
A) I stress again that Fahd al-Qasa is still alive. He lived until very recently in his house. He had a mosque here but no activity. He claimed that he was only staying at home but it became obvious that he was receiving groups of Al-Qaeda elements and also probably elements from outside Yemen. The security services began to watch and follow his activities when they increased and it actually became clear that he was the meeting point for Al-Qaeda elements.
Q) Are these elements basically from tribes in south Yemen?
A) Yes, they are the sons of tribes. But Fahd al-Qasa lived in Aden and was accused in the case of (US destroyer) Cole while Al-Awlaki lived in the United States and returned (fleeing from it before six years) to Yemen. Al-Awlaki was active as a preacher and his activities became prominent recently as one who is affiliated with Al-Qaeda organization, especially after his photo was published in the American media and he was accused of having links with the person who carried out the American soldiers’ massacre at Fort Hood base last November.
Q) Before he fled to the mountains, where in Shabwa did Al-Awlaki to recruit the young to his hard-line ideas? Did he have a known mosque or venue from where he made his call?
A) Anwar al-Awlaki was at first very quiet after his return to Yemen from the United States. He had absolutely no activity apart from speeches in English recorded on cassettes which were sent to the United States and some other countries. He had actually no apparent activity. He is from Shabwa. This situation continued for two years without any public activity apart from the ordinary propagation one. After his photo appeared in the American media (because of Fort Hood case), he fled to the mountains, made contact, or was in contact, with a group of Al-Qaeda that was present in Rafad area. Of course, a military operation targeted them and killed seven of them while the others fled. According to the information, they are in the mountains between Shabwa and Abyan Governorates.
Q) Being at the head of the executive and local authority in the Shabwa Governorate, what is the source of the strength of such gunmen who are in these areas to this day?
A) They are bound together. You know that Al-Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula moved to Yemen. Their activities or moves were between Marib, Shabwa, and Abyan Governorates and also in some other ones.
Q) Regarding the average age of Al-Qaeda’s groups here, are the majority of them young people?
A) Fahd al-Qasa and Anwar al-Awlaki are over 30 years old. But those they are attracting are youngsters who are under 23 years old. These are the Yemenis. The ages of Al-Qaeda’s Egyptian and Saudi elements in south Yemen are probably more than that.
Q) Do you believe that they are using modern technology too?
A) Certainly. For example, Al-Awlaki has an internet website and uses a technology that enables him to send what information he wants to various countries through the internet, whether speeches or guidance calls, in English. As to the technical expertise of the other leaders in Al-Qaeda organization in Yemen, I really do not have an idea about it.
Q) What is Al-Qaeda’s influence on the citizens, especially in Shabwa?
A) They are making the citizens worried and because the latter reject them some of their members moved to very remote areas, in the mountains to the southeast of Shabwa where there are very remote areas away from eyes and also because of the rugged topography there.
Q) Do these elements continue to pose a danger, especially after the blow they received on 24 December? Can they still become stronger in the coming stage?
A) If they are not dealt with firmly and are not arrested, they might attract the young and the unemployed.
Q) Are the very young joining Al-Qaeda because they are unemployed or for other reasons?
A) There are other reasons, most importantly the ideological aspect. These (Al-Qaeda) are misleading the people and persuading them that they are mujahidin in the cause of Allah.
Q) Which of Al-Qaeda elements have direct contacts with the population? Is this true?
A) They had direct contact with the people before their affiliation with Al-Qaeda became apparent during the past two years because they appeared as men of religion and propagation and so on.
Q) Was their call to the population through certain mosques in the area?
A) No. They were present among the people, but before their affiliation with Al-Qaeda became public.
Q) There is talk of cooperation between Al-Qaeda followers and elements called the southern move who are demanding secession from the central authority in Yemen. Is this true?
A) Yes. There were cooperation and joint appearances at some rallies between elements from Al-Qaeda and others from the southern move before the recent raid on 24 December. There is certainly cooperation between them but this might not be ideological. Hostility to the (ruling) regime is what probably brings them together.
Q) It is also said there is cooperation between Al-Qaeda and the Huthists in the north. Is this true?
A) There is no information about this. But the proverb says my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Cooperation between them is not ruled out.
Q) Where do you believe these Al-Qaeda groups are getting their weapons, logistical support, and food from?
A) As to the weapons, as you know, they are freely available in Yemen, specifically light ones. As to support, it is coming from figures, probably in the Gulf countries. Iran’s support for them too cannot be ruled out. But there is no evidence that Al-Qaeda groups that are present here (near Shabwa) are getting direct support from Iran.
Q) There is no doubt that the areas here are witnessing security movements and imposition of the state’s authority, especially at important roads and entrances to cities?
A) There are security checkpoints and patrols, a little less than before. Al-Qaeda elements have four-wheel drive vehicles, like Landcruisers and 4X4s, and they change them from time to time for fear of the security pursuit of them. These vehicles are not with them all the time but they just bring them to the areas they want and then leave. This is what is preventing catching them. But the overall situation that Al-Qaeda organization has created in the south of the country has affected the economic, social, and tourism activities. For example here in Shabwa, many tourists came to it but now they do not come to Yemen because of the information about the existing danger and also because of some operations in Hadramawt which targeted some tourists. They also affected investments, especially during the recent period when they were limited.