Terrorists being used as ‘asymmetrical weapon of destabilization’ in Yemen

Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst, writer and commentator for the Middle East with a special focus on radical movements and Yemen. A regular pundit on RT and other networks her work has appeared in major publications: MintPress, the Foreign Policy Journal, Mehr News and many others.Director of Programs at the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, Catherine is also the co-founder of Veritas Consulting. She is the author of Arabia’s Rising - Under The Banner Of The First Imam
Yemeni soldiers stand guard outside a public security camp following a reported suicide attack in the southeastern Yemeni port of Mukalla on May 15, 2016. © Stringer
Outside powers are trying to bring Yemen to the level of Syria and Iraq where we see sectarianism and terror destroying any hope for diplomacy, Catherine Shakdam, a director at the Shafaqna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, told RT.

At least 25 people have been killed as an Islamic State suicide bomber blew himself up at a security compound in the southern Yemeni city of Mukalla. The explosion targeted new police recruits, according to security and medical sources. On Thursday, Islamic State targeted the same city of Mukalla killing.

The city had been under the control of Islamic State's rival terror group, Al Qaeda, which was forced out by the Saudi-led military coalition last month. In March, ISIS claimed responsibility for a triple suicide attack in the southern city of Aden which claimed more than two-dozen lives.

The terror has been spreading across the country as Yemen faces a bloody civil war and constant Saudi-led coalition air strikes.

Catherine Shakdam, writer and commentator on the Middle East, gave her views on the attack.

RT: Islamic State has targeted the city of Mukalla for a second time this week. Does it hold strategic importance?

Catherine Shakdam: Mukalla is a very important province of Yemen, where most of the oil and other natural resources are actually present. And it represents a geostrategic point as well because it offers an opening to the sea onto the Horn of Africa and of course Asia. And Al-Qaeda and other radical groups have tried for many years to get a footing into southern Yemen, either through Aden or through Mukalla. And of course, this return… is actually quite interesting when you bear in mind that the Saudi-led coalition is supposedly in control of south Yemen. So, I find it very interesting that all the Al-Qaeda-related activity is actually taking place in southern Yemen when we have nothing in northern Yemen, which is under the resistance control.    

RT: Al Qaeda was only driven out of Mukalla last month. Why is it so difficult to stabilize the city? How big is it?

CS: It is not the size that is actually the problem. I think it is the way why it is so important geostrategically and when you see one group come out and one come in, I don’t think that you could really make a difference between Al-Qaeda and ISIS militants. They come from the same ideologies, the same strategies, the same desire to control by imposing their own weird and sicken interpretation of Islam. There is no real difference. It is still Wahhabism. There is no real difference, the title changes but it is the same ideology, the same people, the same desire to control.  Mukalla offers not just an opening to the sea, but it would offer this pipe dream that the Saudi have tried to implement on the ground for many decades now… to construct a pipeline… which would of course counteracts the role and the position that Iran plays in the region.  I think you need to look at it at from an all-security standpoint and not so much as a security standpoint. I think that Al-Qaeda here is being a pawn, being played as a form of an asymmetrical weapon in Yemen. I would say that the focus would be deflected and for people to have this conversation on counterterrorism, when really something else is happening.

RT: So, what is it about? 

CS: I think that the Saudi are playing a very dangerous game. You have to understand what it is they want in the region to really understand why certain things are happening in Yemen. And why is Al-Qaeda or ISIS is making a return in southern Yemen where the Saudi have said to be in control? Aden is under Saudi occupation, de-facto, there are Saudi troops in Aden. Why is Al-Qaeda returning? Are they in control?

RT: Are we going to see the spread of ISIS?

CS: I think yes. And the only reason is because the resistance movement, which is led by the Houthis, is actually making progress on the ground. They have de-facto defeated militarily the Saudi because the Saudi have achieved nothing politically and militarily in Yemen. And so now they are reverting to try to use terror as a weapon again, an asymmetrical weapon of mass destabilization. And they are trying to bring Yemen to the level of Syria and Iraq where we see sectarianism and terror hugging the front lines and destabilizing any hope for political talk and for diplomacy and anything like this. And this is a problem. There is a pattern here which is being replicated across the Middle East. And now Yemen. Yemen is a very dangerous place because Yemen stands at a very crucial points geographically in Southern Arabia and you do not want to see Yemen fall because then there is the risk where ISIS could spread not only into Africa and onward towards Egypt in the Suez Canal where Europe is then at the doorstep, but also Asia. There is a real risk here. Yemen might be very poor and people might not pay attention, but they should. Because whatever will happen in Yemen, will have repercussions across the world. And the world ought to pay closer attention to what is happening to Yemen now and what is Yemen fighting against.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.