How could 300 Gunmen Seize Abyan Governorate?

National Yemen

Jalal Bal-Eid

By Omer al-Amogi – For NY

Residents of Zinjibar who have fled the fighting between Ansar Al-Sharia and Yemen’s army have found themselves in poorly funded refugee camps. They have been waiting for nearly three months for government assistance and lack necessary amounts of food, water, and medicine.

An anonymous source that works in the camps said that the “government is not able to provide them [refugees] with enough help and so we must ask for the help of humanitarian organizations.”

The aid the refugees contrasted sharply with the aid Ansar Al-Sharia in Zunjbar city receives from anonymous sponsors. The aid they received was enough to support the whole city.

“I do not care about money because I can easily get whatever I want,” said an armed man affiliated with Ansar Al-Sharia.

According to the armed man, all their needs are met with the help of Abu Baseer, who is in charge of financial matters. “His help is not limited to members of Ansaw Al-Sahria and extends to other citizens who remain in the city to support them,” the armed man said.

Ansar Al-Sharia rules the city with an iron fist and imposes sanctions on the residents of the city. They hover around the city using governmental and army cars and say they got them when they seized the city. However, citizens deny this and say they never saw such cars except when gunmen seized they city.

They call for prayers with a speaker and arrest anyone who keeps walking in the streets or does not join the prayer. Ansar Al-Sharia gradually punishes those who do not pray in the mosque starting with a week detention for the first time. The second time they detain them for a month. If such people continue to refuse to pray in the mosque Ansar Al-Sharia sentences them to death. This still happens even though some members do not pray at all.

Also, they do not allow men to leave their houses unless for necessary things and attack those who are doubted for their alliance for the groups. Those who go against the orders of the militants, they get beaten, attacked and robbed of their belongings.

According to the gunmen, satellite devices and televisions are forbidden in Islam, and they punish those who use them.  Then they burn and destroy such devices.

Citizens are also not allowed to chew qat or smoke cigarettes even though the gunmen still do as they say it “increases their attentiveness.”

“I do not know if I will be able to get rid of using them [qat], all I know is that it increase my readiness for fighting,” Al-Ayahm Al-Ansari said.

The gunmen have now seized almost all governmental institutions in the city through which they rule the city. However, one notable building they have yet to seize is the Presidential Palace. This casts doubt on the reality of who their sponsor is. Most gunmen refused to talk about this issue.

Areas controlled by Ansar Al-Sharia did not suffer the punishments imposed by the former regime on the Yemeni people that included shortages of water, power and fuel. Abu Hamza Al-Zungubari, the governor of Abyan Islamic State, whose real name is Jalal Bal’eed, said that through his relations with influential figures he could manage regularly supplying power to the Zinjbar. The power was continuously supplied to the city even though the city’s power center in Aden was regularly attacked.

Gunmen call citizens who join their group “ Al-Ansar,” or the supporters, and put them in the front lines in their battles with army forces. They also may assign them to be spies in case they face no conflicts with the army. Accordingly, they force the citizens within their ranks to attend daily lessons and lectures on the beliefs of the militants.

As for Ansar Al-Sharia beliefs, they consider Al-Islah party as defectors of Islam and allies of America. They also accuse the socialist party of atheism and say that GPC party is a secular party. However, they believe that GPC proved to be less of an ally to the American government. For them, Houthis and Americans are dangerous to the nation and must be fought against. They confirm that they have no relation with Al-Qaeda and only share the idea of armed jihad.

During our visit to the city, we saw that part of the gunmen dress in a similar style to Afghani people with two guns on their left and right sides while the others wear the traditional Yemeni dress with Jambiah. Almost all of the members are in their twenties while their leader is around 32. Most members were forcibly imprisoned and accused of joining Al-Qaeda. They then were released though some of them were sentenced to death.

Most of the members come from Musaik and Sawad Hanash districts in Sana’a in addition to some from abroad.

Zinjbar city is considered to be the largest city in Abyan governorate and is now devoid of any regular citizens. The city suffered heavy damages of armed conflicts between militants and army. Some areas and buildings were completely destroyed. Governmental and private institutions were attacked and destroyed and people were terrorized. The war resulted in losses of billions and the displaced citizens say both sides should be held responsible.

Given the small amount of soldiers in the city, it is unlikely that they would have been able to seize the city with the support of powerful figures. What happened in Abyan seems well planned and will continue to remain a threat to the new president and his government.