How is jihadi militancy in Yemen evolving?


Regional conflict and internal chaos have allowed militant jihadi groups to rise and flourish in Yemen. This paper analyzes two of the most prominent such groups, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Yemen (ISY), by scrutinizing the factors that led to their respective ascents and examining the challenges and pressures that have caused their respective declines. 

By comparing and contrasting their operations, respective styles of leadership, and varying levels of community integration, this paper charts the path of jihadi militancy in Yemen and assesses its future in Yemeni politics and society.

Key Points

  • The two core goals of AQAP are expelling infidels from Muslim lands and introducing an Islamic regime that would rule by Islamic law. While these goals have remained constant, circumstances and experience have refined AQAP’s approaches to engaging local populations in the pursuit of these goals.
  • The main challenges and pressures facing AQAP, some of which are shared by ISY, include increasingly frequent counterterrorism strikes, dwindling public support, weak leadership, poor communications, and decentralization and/or fragmentation.
  • ISY’s challenges are similar to those of AQAP, but its initial position in Yemen was weaker. Unlike AQAP, ISY never held territory and found it hard to integrate itself into Yemeni society.
  • The decentralization of Yemen’s jihadists should not be mistaken for a lessening of their long-term threat. However, current jihadi decentralization does provide a small window of opportunity to capitalize on the jihadists’ disarray. Above all, ending the current war is imperative.

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