Al-Jawf, Asharq Al-Awsat – Al-Jawf governorate is one of the most remote areas of Yemen, despite its fertile agriculture and its special history and culture, however at the same time it is one of the most troubled regions in the country as well. Many people are too afraid to visit al-Jawf due to the tribal rule in the area and the availability of arms, not to mention what has been said about the existence of gangs in the area and the weakness of the government’s presence there.
Asharq Al-Awsat is visiting the Al-Jawf governorate, where the Yemeni Shiite Huthi movement has a strong presence. Illustrating the dangers and violence that are rife in this region, a suicide car bomber attacked a convoy of Yemeni Shiite Huthis on their way to a religious ceremony last Wednesday, killing 17 including a religious cleric and tribal figures, 15 others were wounded in this attack.
Initially everybody pointed the finger of accusation at Al Qaeda for this attack, as it is the only organization that utilizes suicide attacks in this manner, not to mention car-bombs, despite the fact that the Huthis were the only group not to accuse Al Qaeda, instead accusing the US and Israeli intelligence services. The Huthis repeated this accusation following a second suicide bombing that took place on Friday in Dahyan, killing 3 and wounding many others. This suicide bombing targeted a convoy of cars that were traveling from Saada to Dahyan to attend the funeral of the spiritual leader of the Huthi rebels, Badreddin al-Huthi, who died on Thursday at the age of 86. Almost all parties accused the Al Qaeda organization of being behind this suicide attack that targeted the Huthis – the second attack in one week – except for the Huthis themselves, according to sources in al-Jawf.
On the day of the second suicide bombing, Asharq Al-Awsat was present at the funeral of Sheikh Abdullah al-Azi Abdan’s son, Yousef Abdan, who was killed in the previous bombing. Tribal dignitaries and elders, political figures, and even some members of the Salafist trend stopped by to pay their respects and offer Sheikh Abdan their condolences for his loss, condemning the terrorist attack.
However his was not like other funerals in which Quran verses are read and prayers given for the soul of the departed, for the place filled to the brim with mourners and worshippers after a religious cleric began to give a sermon utilizing a microphone and loudspeakers. Anybody listening to the voice of this young cleric might have thought they were listening to Abdul-Malik al-Huthi himself, such was his popularity.
This sermon did not mention the deceased at all, or offer any prayers that he should rest in peace, but rather this was a purely political sermon and repeated the same accusations that were made in the statement issued previously by the Huthis, namely that the US and Israel were behind the attacks.
However it must also be mentioned that the majority of those attending this funeral were not Huthis, and Asharq Al-Awsat can confirm that it heard mourners speculating that Al Qaeda is truly behind these attacks. One of the mourners said “if they had accused the State of being involved in what happened, this may have been an acceptable accusation [but not the US and Israel].”
Attempting to uncover the true identity of who is behind these suicide attacks, Asharq Al-Awsat learned from informed sources in al-Jawf governorate that this attack was nothing more than a retaliatory attack by Al Qaeda against the Shiite Huthis, after Huthi rebels seized 2 Al Qaeda members approximately one month ago and handed them over to the government.
Several sources revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the Al Qaeda organization in al-Jawf issued a statement strongly criticizing the Huthis for handing over their members to the government for trial, promising retaliation. A Yemeni security source in al-Jawf also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the two suicide bombs had the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda operation. This security official, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, revealed the presence of a secret war between the Shiite Huthi rebels and the Salafist Al Qaeda organization. He gave examples of this war, including the Al Qaeda statement mentioned above, a number of Huthi statements that have criticized Al Qaeda and accused it of having US-backing. The security official also revealed that the Huthis had also attacked Al Qaeda members at mosques.
Dr. Abdullah al-Faqih, a professor of political science at Sanaa University informed Asharq Al-Awsat that he also believes that Al Qaeda were behind the two recent suicide bombings, saying that “the method and style [of the bombings] are those of Al Qaeda, for I have never heard a Yemeni tribe taking revenge via a suicide attack.” As for the Huthis accusing the US and Israel of being responsible for this, Dr. al-Faqih said that “the Huthis do not want to be seen as fighting on the same side with America against Al Qaeda.” He also said that it is not in the interests of the Huthis at the present time to accuse the government of being responsible for these attacks “in order not to affect the Qatari peace efforts…and they [also] fear this conflict being given sectarian dimensions if they accuse Al Qaeda.” The Yemeni academic also spoke of his belief that there is a “hidden ploy to transform the Saudi – Yemeni border into a troubled region” saying that this would be in the interests of “many parties, both internal and external.”
Asharq Al-Awsat found it extremely difficult to get clear answers to some questions in al-Jawf governorate, most notably the question; who is truly behind these bombings? This is a small governorate with a relatively low population where everybody knows everybody else, and so it would be easy to discover if there have been any unfamiliar faces around.
The Huthis say they do not know the identity of the suicide bomber, as do the Yemeni authorities. However the Yemeni security official who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity revealed that the Huthis had prevented the Yemeni authorities from completing their investigation into the attacks by not allowing the investigators access to the scene of the attack, and not handing over the suicide bombers remain and other evidence to the authorities. Asharq Al-Awsat confirmed this information after obtaining proof that the car used in the initial suicide attack remains in the Huthi stronghold.
Therefore it is clear that there is a shadow war taking place behind the scenes in al-Jawf governorate between the Huthis and Al Qaeda, and this is a conflict that we can only expect to get worse.