Al-Qaeda has gained more ground amidst the chaos in Yemen — this time in second city Aden — but for now Saudi Arabia is turning a blind eye to its longtime enemy, experts say.
Supported by a Saudi-led military coalition, forces loyal to Yemen’s exiled government retook Aden last month from Iran-backed Huthi rebels who have seized large parts of the country including the capital Sanaa.
As authorities work to reassert control over Aden, the capital of formerly independent South Yemen, Al-Qaeda has moved into the gap.
The jihadist group’s militants, already in control of other parts of southern Yemen, are reported to have taken up positions in several strategic parts of the city.
But experts say that while Saudi Arabia may turn eventually to tackling Al-Qaeda in its southern neighbour, Riyadh’s focus now is purely on stopping the Huthis.
“I don’t think Saudi Arabia’s main priority in Yemen is Al-Qaeda… The Huthis are more of a high priority,” said Ibrahim Fraihat, a senior fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.
“That’s probably another reason why we saw Al-Qaeda flourishing” in the south, he said.
The coalition launched its campaign in March as the Huthis advanced on Aden, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee to Riyadh.
In the ensuing chaos, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the powerful local branch of the jihadist group, took control of areas including Mukalla, capital of the southeastern province of Hadramawt.
– Key Aden buildings seized –
The militants have since been imposing Islamic sharia law in the city and holding military drills in Hadramawt, ancestral homeland of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden’s family.
Formed by a merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of Al-Qaeda, AQAP is considered the group’s most dangerous branch and was behind several plots against Western targets, including this year’s deadly attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
While US drones continue to target AQAP militants in Hadramawt, Saudi-led coalition warplanes have so far steered clear of the province.
Read more: Yahoo News