Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP) has been able to expand its area of control while joining the fight against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
AQAP is often able to ally itself with local Sunni tribes who appreciate the groups' help in their battle against the Houthi rebels. Rather than ruling just on its own, the group often serves as a power broker, establishing local ruling bodies composed of those willing to cooperate with the group. AQAP has become a major power broker through methods described in a recent Al Jazeera article.AQAP and local allies control virtually the whole of the huge desert province of Hadramawt, including the port capital of Mukalla. The port was seized back in Mid-April as described in a VICE news article:HNC Secretary-General Abdul-Hakeem bin Mahfood told Al Jazeera that AQAP, whom he called "Sons of Hadramawt," were crucial in maintaining peace in Mukalla. When AQAP members entered the city they claimed that they were not there as AQAP but as "Sons of Hadramawt," as many were from famous families in the province. They did not raise their flag or announce they had taken the city. The HNC was then formed. Mahfood insisted that the council had sent representatives to Ryadh Saudi Arabia where they met with exiled president Mansour Hadi, who praised the HNC for restoring peace and security in the city. The Hadi governor stayed in Mukalla for days after AQAP took control and when he left for Ryadh, encouraged the HNC to continue with its work. Mahfood said that Al Qaeda agreed to keep a low profile to avoid bombardment such as happened under a previous Hadi government offensive that led to terrible destruction in AQAP occupied cities such as Sinjar. The local military representative of the Hadi government Major General Abdul-Raheem Atteq has so far agreed not to attack Mukalla.So far in the conflict, the Saudi-led coalition has not bombed AQAP-controlled areas nor attempted to occupy them with ground forces. To do so would invite a great deal of local opposition given the degree of cooperation between AQAP and local officials. AQAP is also a key player in the ongoing battle against the Houthis as well. The U.S. in contrast has continued drone attacks in AQAP-controlled areas including Mukalla. The UN calculates that over the past year as many as 40 Yemeni civilians may have been killed by U.S. drone attacks. Asked his opinion of the U.S. drone attacks, Bin Mahfood replied:
On the 2nd of April 2015, AQAP fighters stormed the coastal city of Al Mukalla and captured it on the 16th of April after the two week Battle of Al Mukalla. They seized government buildings and reportedly used trucks to cart off more than $120 million from the central bank, according to the bank’s director. AQAP forces soon passed control to a civilian council, giving it a budget of more than $4 million to provide services to residents of the city.The civilian council is called the Hadramawt National Council(HNC). The council has ensured that Mukalla residents have basic services, including drinking water, electricity and fuel. The council also has its own militia which protects schools, government buildings, and banks. Provision of basic services and security is rare in much of Yemen. Although critics claim that the HNC is nothing but a front for AQAP, locals probably do not care as long as the group provide security and services that otherwise would be lacking, and often were when the Hadi government was in power.
It is known that drone strikes are provocative actions, extrajudicial killing, and a violation of sovereignty, as they [al-Qaeda] are not subject to prosecution.Mahfood noted that due to the stability in the city, it had received 150,000 displaced people from the port city of Aden and other areas. The Hadi government may find itself in a delicate situation if it decides it should do as before and drive AQAP out of areas that it controls.Al Jazeera: Who will prosecute them if they are in control of the city?Bin Mahfood: Even if they control the city, this should not justify killing them because they are affiliated with al-Qaeda. They should be faced with proven allegations and then put on trial. And we should see if [they] deserve capital punishment for that crime.