Abu Hamza and the Islamic Army

Abu al-Hassan and theIslamic Army of Aden-Abyan

Report dated January 1999
(Abu al-Hassan was eventually executed)

ABU AL-HASSAN (full name: Zain al-Abdin Abubakr al-Mihdar) is 32 years old and comes from an important tribe in Shabwa province. He belongs to the salafi religious sect which has connections with wahhabism but is very much a minority in Yemen.

He fought in Afghanistan and on his return to Yemen became associated with the Jihad organisation which included Afghan war veterans from various countries. It is not known when he first met Abu Hamza al-Masri, the London-based cleric and leader of Supporters of Sharia (SOS), but they have certainly been in contact for several years. Both were in Afghanistan and Abu Hamza is reported to have spent some time in Yemen afterwards, as a refugee.

Abu al-Hassan claims to be the creator of the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan which began in a rather haphazard fashion about 1996 or 1997. Nothing was heard of the group until 29 May 1998, when it issued the first in a series of political/religious statements on Yemeni and world affairs.

For several months the official position of the Yemeni government was (and to some extent still is) that the Islamic Army did not exist. However, according to al-Wasat magazine (11.1.99) the authorities quietly tried to make contact with Abu al-Hassan through tribal intermediaries. The aim seems to have been to control him through incorporation into the political system, as had happened earlier with Sheikh Tariq al-Fadli, who led an important section of Jihad. But Abu al-Hassan would have none of it. He rejected all approaches and the government offered a reward of one million riyals for information leading to his arrest.

His hostility towards the Yemeni government seems to stem partly from his position as a member of a minority sect, but also from his view that shari'a law is not applied properly in Yemen. On 8 November 1998, he called on all members of the Yemeni parliament and Consultative Council to resign and demanded that President Ali Abdullah Salih "surrender" and face trial in accordance with the shari'a.

The Islamic Army praised the attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in August 1998 as "an heroic operation carried out by heroes of the jihad". It also announced its support for Usama bin Laden following the Americans' reprisal raid on his camp in Afghanistan, called on the Yemeni people to kill Americans and destroy their property.

It is not known what organisational links (if any) the Islamic Army has with bin Laden, but it clearly has a number of other international connections. Several foreigners are reported to have taken part in the kidnapping of the 16 tourists on December 28 and one of those killed in the rescue by Yemeni government forces was the Islamic Army's operational leader, an Egyptian named Usama. Usama is said to have belonged to the Egyptian jihad group formerly led by Dr Aiman al-Dhawahiri (who himself took refuge for a time in Yemen).

In general, though, foreign involvement in jihad activity in Yemen has been decreasing over the last couple of years because of a tougher approach by the security forces.