Leader of Yemen’s Aden-Abyan Islamic Army Rejects Southern Secession

Andrew McGregor

August 5, 2010

In a recent interview with a pan-Arab daily, Shaykh Khalid Abd al-Nabi (a.k.a. Khalid Abdulrab al-Nabi al-Yazidi), the leader of Yemen’s Aden-Abyan Islamic Army (AAIA), condemned the Southern secession movement as the work of “Jews and Christians,” while claiming he was the victim of accusations by “atheistic communists” who had infiltrated the Sana’a government (al-Quds al-Arabi, July 9, 2009).

Aden Abyan MapThe AAIA was established in the early 1990s by Abu Hasan Zayn al-Abadin al-Mihdhar. When al-Mihdhar was executed in 1998 for his role in the deaths of four Australian and American tourists, al-Nabi took over leadership of the group (al-Hayat, October 11, 2005). A member of the Yafa’i tribe and a native of the al-Yazid district of Lahaj Governorate, al-Nabi left socialist-ruled South Yemen in the 1980s for religious training in Saudi Arabia. In 1994 he received military training from the Taliban in Afghanistan but returned to Yemen to participate in the civil war against the South Yemen socialists. After this he became a senior member of the AAIA. By 2003 al-Nabi was leading his followers in clashes against government forces in the Hutat Mountains of Abyan Governorate. According to al-Nabi, the “atheistic communists” of South Yemen had merely been dispersed rather than defeated in the civil war. “Some remained in Yemen as members of the opposition, others became members of the opposition outside Yemen, and some donned the garb of the state and joined the ruling [General People’s] Congress Party. Outwardly, these people pretended to owe allegiance to the Congress Party but inwardly they owed their allegiance to the socialist party,” stated al-Nabi.

In 2005, al-Nabi turned himself in to authorities and received an official pardon. He was released to his farm where authorities maintained he was leading a peaceful life despite numerous reports he was raising and training an Islamist militia. Al-Nabi has repeatedly denied having ties to the government, especially Major General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, the president’s brother and commander of Yemen’s First Armored Brigade (Asharq al-Awsat, April 4, 2006; January 8).

The AAIA takes its name from an apocryphal prophecy by the Prophet Muhammad that predicts an army will arise from Aden-Abyan in the last days to fight for victory in God’s name. Al-Nabi believes in this prophecy, though he stops short of claiming to represent its fulfillment. According to him, “The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) preached about this army and about the fact that such an army will emerge either now or in the future. When this will happen exactly, only God knows. I believe that the global prophecies of our Prophet (p.b.u.h.) will inevitably take place. No one can stop them or interdict them… [Regarding the AAIA] I cannot say definitively whether it actually exists and is effective or anything else.”

Al-Nabi claims his difficulties with the government are inflated by those seeking revenge for their defeat in 1994. “For instance, the authorities may receive information that I am carrying arms in a certain location. Now this is not a big deal. The majority of the Yemeni people carry arms and even the women carry arms these days,” he said. Al-Nabi also complains that the strength of the AAIA was consistently exaggerated in the past to the point where a band of some 20 followers was treated as the equal of the national army. According to him, “The media inflated the issue because, as you know, more media coverage means more U.S. support and aid in the name of fighting terrorism.”

Al-Nabi continues to defend al-Mihdhar’s murder of four Western tourists in 1998, saying, “I believe… he was killed unjustly because, at the end of the day, even the killing of thousands and thousands of Christian unbelievers is not equal to one drop of blood of a believer.” He points to a fatwa by Shaykh Muqbil bin Hadi al-Wadi, who ruled in his book Al-Burkan fi Nasf Jami’at al-Iman that the tourists “had come in war and were spies and corrupters on earth.”

The AAIA leader holds a conspiratorial view of Yemen’s political violence, claiming the Houthist rebel movement in north Yemen is a creation of the state supported by the United States, though he does not explain how this would benefit either party. He believes the southern secession movement is likewise the work of “Jews and Christians,” saying it is “certain that the United States and Britain are involved.”

Though resolute in his advocacy of national unity, al-Nabi has elsewhere acknowledged there are numerous problems facing the people of southern Yemen, including “injustice, racism, usurping the money of the people, looting the land, oppression, barbarism, the use of violence and force, a corrupt judiciary, corrupt security, and many other reasons. In fact, if we look at the situation of the people in the southern regions, you might excuse them for demanding secession” (Asharq al-Awsat, January 8).

This article first appeared in the August 5, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor