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Despite Battle Field Reverses in Yemen, Al Qaeda is still Reaping Oil Profits

Despite Battle Field Reverses in Yemen, Al Qaeda is still Reaping Oil Profits
The Al Qaeda are entrenched in parts of Yemen’s south and are reaping profits from smuggled fuel even though they have been pushed out of the enclave it carved out in the country as Yemen descended into civil war.
While hundreds pf Al Qaeda fighters managed to flee to neighboring Shabwa province and beyond, scores of militants were killed in a Gulf Arab-backed offensive on Al Qaeda's de facto capital of Mukalla, Yemen's third largest seaport.
However security, tribal and shipping sources say that by joining diverse armed groups in taxing fuel delivered illicitly to remote beaches along the Arabian Sea coast, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is thriving a month later.
Shabwa is divided among al Qaeda, government troops loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Houthi forces and armed tribes and is the home to Yemen's largest industrial project, a now-shut liquefied natural gas export facility at Belhaf.
At a time of extreme fuel shortages around the countrym all sides are benefiting say tribal sources.
"There are five checkpoints in Shabwa between Bir Ali and Ataq leading to the (Houthi-controlled) interior ... one by the army, one by a tribal militia and one by the acting governor. Al Qaeda maintains two at Azzan," a local tribal leader said, reports Reuters.
General Faraj al-Buhsani, commander of the Yemeni forces which routed AQAP in Mukalla, concurred.
"In Azzan (al Qaeda) has a hub for the trade in oil products coming from Belhaf and that area in the direction of Shabwa which is ongoing. We are hearing about this continuously," al-Buhsani said.
Partly since many Yemeni ports are subject to a Gulf Arab quasi-blockade to prevent arms reaching the Houthis, Yemen in an average recent month brings in less than 10 percent of the more than 500,000 tonnes of fuel it needs, say aid groups.
Defending the province's role in the illegal trade when it is struggling to maintain security with limited outside help, Director of the Shabwa governor's office, Muhsin al-Haj, said: "Shabwa is running on the most basic resources," he told Reuters. "In a province of 42,000 sq km, we have just two security cars, and they're not even armed."
Prompted by gains made against the government by Houthi rebels allied to Saudi's arch-enemy, Iran, the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen in March 2015 resulted in a striking unintended re-emergence of AQAP again after its foundation in the 1990s.
Raking in around $2 million every day mostly by taxing goods entering Mukalla by ship, as documented in a Reuters investigation in early April, the group enjoyed relative prosperity along 600 km (373 miles) of Yemen's southern coastline, before the military's April 24-25 offensive. The group also extorted $1.4 million from the national oil company.
By putting its economic resources to work in development projects, the militants gained the grudging acceptance of many locals in the long-marginalized south, in its one year of control over the region.
The militants simply withdrew when the military attacked and it seems that they did not want to drag a potentially sympathetic civilian population into a conflict.
The group claimed responsibility for the shootings at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 and had conducted a series of attacks in Yemen, including on the now-abandoned U.S. embassy in Sanaa. This new act seems to be a new tactic for the group, say experts.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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