'Islamic Army' revived
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 11 July, 2003
SECURITY forces have arrested at least 22 suspects in a
new crackdown on the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan, a shadowy
organisation linked to al-Qaeda which at various times has been
said by the authorities not to exist or to have been dismantled.
The latest confrontation began on June 21 when seven Yemeni
soldiers in a medical convoy were injured by gunmen as they passed
through the Sarar district of Abyan, on what the official news
agency described as a "humanitarian" mission.
Two days later, troops and special forces with helicopters used
rockets and artillery to attack an area about four miles in
diameter near Huttat, where about 80 extremists were allegedly
hiding. Those holed up in the area were said to have included 10
who last April escaped from a prison where they had been held
without trial beyond the legal time limit, in connection with the
bombing of USS Cole in October 2000.
Details of the assault on Huttat are unclear, but it appears
that six militants were killed and 13 captured, while about 60
fled. Seven soldiers were injured.
More suspects were later captured, bringing the total to 22 -
though it is not known if these include the jail escapees.
According to Yemeni police, the group's leader was Ahmad abd
al-Nabi, a Yemeni who had previously been in Afghanistan. He is
said to have died in the assault, though according to one report
his body was badly burned, making identification difficult.
Several of those arrested claimed to be workers on abd al-Nabi's
farm who carried weapons as a condition of their employment.
During the 1990s, Huttat was the location of a training camp
run by the Islamic Army, which had connections with both 'Usama
bin Laden and Abu Hamza al-Masri, a preacher at Finsbury Park
mosque in London, who issued several faxed communiques on the
Islamic Army's behalf.
In 1998, a group of young Muslims from Britain travelled to
Yemen - apparently sent by Abu Hamza - and made contact with the
Islamic Army. Several were arrested on terrorism charges, and the
Islamic Army then kidnapped 16 western tourists in the hope of
securing their release.
Shortly after the kidnapping, Abu al-Hassan al-Mihdar, the
leader of the Islamic Army at the time, called Abu Hamza on a
satellite phone to discuss the situation. Next day, however, four
of the tourists and two kidnappers died in a shoot-out with Yemeni
Abu al-Hassan was later executed and little more had been heard
of the Islamic Army until recently. It is believed to be a local
branch of the larger Jihad organisation which was formed around
veterans of the Afghan war against the Soviet Union and operates
in various parts of Yemen.
Yemen wants to put Egyptian-born Abu Hamza on trial, but there
is no mechanism for extraditing him from Britain. He acquired
British nationality through marriage - though the means by which
he did so is under investigation and it is conceivable that he
will lose his citizenship.
Last week the Charity Commission, which supervises British
charities, published a critical report on its investigation into
Finsbury Park mosque, where Abu Hamza has now been barred from
preaching (though he still preaches in the street outside the
It accused Abu Hamza of mismanagement and misconduct, and
making inflammatory speeches that infringed the mosque's
charitable status. It also found that Abu Hamza was a signatory to
a bank account in the mosque's name which trustees had not known
Meanwhile, Yemen has deployed more than 3,000
"well-trained" troops along its porous northern border
with Saudi Arabia, the Saudi daily, Arab News, reported last week.
The move is partly directed against general smuggling, though its
main purpose is to prevent cross-border movement of weapons and
It follows the visit of a large delegation to Yemen last month,
led by Prince Sultan, the Saudi defence minister, and signals a
marked change in relations since the two neighbours' border
dispute was resolved three years ago.
Part of Yemen's reward for its co-operation is a $1 million
Saudi donation to a military hospital in Sana'a, though Yemen is
also pressing to increase employment opportunities for its
citizens in the kingdom.