Intelligence Reports 16-22 Oct 14
Terrorism and Insurgency – Yemen
The Houthis’ war in Yemen has brought al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) out of its ‘self-imposed exile’ which threatens to heighten sectarian tensions in the country.
AQAP is doing as much as it can to stoke a sectarian conflict in Yemen. In recent weeks it has stepped up attacks against the Houthis and this is sure to aggravate the local Shiite population. It has also made several appeals to Yemeni Sunnis in support of its campaign against the Shiite movement casting itself as the only group capable of preventing what it claims is a plot by Iran to take over the country. If further advances are made by the Houthis, AQAP will be well placed to take advantage of anti-Houthi sentiment by securing the support of Sunni tribes and other groups keen to see the Houthi demise. The continuing turmoil in the capital will also provide AQAP with an opportunity to make inroads in the provinces of Shabwah and Hadramaut, which the security forces would have difficulties retaking.
With the world’s focus firmly on the Kurdish enclave of Kobani, events elsewhere have gone largely unnoticed. The Syrian regime has used the opportunity to take advantage of the US led airstrikes by going on the offensive in Damascus and Aleppo against so-called small moderate rebel factions. With superior fighting numbers and the dominance of aircraft, Assad’s forces are slowly tightening their grip in these areas. But this may well be a short-term gain, particularly if Turkey becomes more directly involved. At the same time the dire circumstances of the rebels have been compounded by a slow push by the IS north of Aleppo. Should the IS turn its attention away from Kobani, a major assault there can be expected.
Since the announcement on October 15 that the controversial and influential Shiite Sheikh Nimr alANimr was to be executed, there has been a flurry of denouncements and threats from his supporters towards the Saudi government. These protestations have come from Iranian officials, religious leaders, politicians, Bahraini opposition, Hezbollah, and Iraqi Shiite militias. These are serious threats, and if Sheikh Nimr is executed, then Saudi Arabia could suffer greatly in terms of security.
Sources from the country’s ministries of interior and foreign affairs say that the leadership of Saudi Arabia is not going to back down on the ruling. They accuse Iran of interference of the internal affairs of the GCC countries and will not want to be seen to cave in to pressure from Iran and other Shiite powers.
Saudi Arabia moreover rejects criticisms of its practice of executing opponents and pro-Saudi commentators have pointed out that 369 people killed in Iran in 2013 whilst 76 were executed in Saudi Arabia in the same period. They argue that human rights groups shine a light on Saudi Arabia far more than Iran, which they feel has a far worse human rights record.
The implications of Sheikh Nimr’s execution as noted above, could be a security backlash in Saudi Arabia. However it is important to see the development in a regional context, and to be aware that Sheikh Nimr’s support across the region could translate into instability in countries with large Shiite populations, most obviously Bahrain. Saudi Arabia is also concerned that its diplomats and other officials will be targeted abroad.