Yemen's al-Qaeda group recalls foreign fighters

Yemen's al-Qaeda group recalls foreign fighters
Yemeni fighters in the Nusra Front and the Islamic State group are said to be returning to Yemen to fight Houthi militants, in what appears to be a yet another new front for violence.
2 min read
23 January, 2015
Several al-Qaeda suspects were arrested in Yemen last month on terrorism charges [AFP]

In the past few days, Yemeni militants fighting in Syria and Iraq have reportedly been returning to Yemen following the Houthi takeover of the capital, Sanaa.

Several fighters from the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis) and al-Nusra Front have returned to Yemen, according to local and militant sources.

The return comes after the Houthis, an armed group based in the Saada province, took control of several government institutions in Yemen on Tuesday.

Yemenis are understood to make up the sixth-largest contingent of fighters in Iraq and Syria, with Saudi fighters the third-largest. There have been reports that Saudi fighters in Syria and Iraq are also leaving for Yemen.    

Such reports come on the heels of an announcement by the Houthis that they would attempt a takeover of the Marib governorate, known as Yemen's al-Qaeda capital.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has reportedly issued a call to its fighters to return to the country and "fight the attacking enemy". Armed groups in Syria and Iraq appear to have given their blessings to the move.

Iraqi and Syrian security sources estimate that approximately 300 Yemenis are actively fighting in the two countries, with the majority of militants belonging to al-Nusra Front, the Syrian al-Qaeda franchise.

     The leadership of the Front gave their permission for Yemeni fighters to leave.
- Abdullah al-Hamwi, Nusra Front

One of the most important Yemeni fighters is Mohammad Khalil al-Zad, who is a high-ranking leader in al-Nusra Front.

"The leadership of the Front gave their permission for Yemeni fighters to leave," said Abdullah al-Hamwi, a senior figure in al-Nusra Front.

Hamwi suspects Yemeni fighters that are part of other armed groups have also left Syria.

Sources in Aleppo say approximately 40 Yemeni and Saudi fighters departed the Syrian city for Yemen three days ago, and a steady stream of Gulf nationals are continuing to leave the country.

A separate source, a member of another armed group, said that Yemeni IS fighters had been granted permission to leave Iraq and Syria, like their counterparts in the Nusra Front.