Qasim al-Rimi, who has led the branch of the global jihadist movement known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) since his predecessor was killed in 2015, told the group’s media arm al-Malahem on Sunday that his followers were de facto aligned with an array of forces in the complex conflict.
“We fight alongside all Muslims in Yemen, together with different Islamic groups,” he said, including “the Muslim Brotherhood and also our brothers among the sons of (Sunni) tribes.”
The child victims of Yemen’s civil war
While al-Rimi did not elaborate on what he meant by “alongside”, many Sunni tribal militias, as well as the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood movement and conservative Salafis, are allied to the exiled Yemeni government fighting against Shia rebels known as Houthis who seized control of the capital Sanaa in 2014.
The militias receive extensive funding and arms from the US-backed Saudi-led coalition, which has supported President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi with air strikes and ground troops since March 2015.
Yemen’s civil war has killed more than 10,000 people to date and left more than half of its 27 million strong population reliant on food aid. The international community has condemned the Saudi Arabian bombing campaign, which is thought to be responsible for most civilian deaths.
The UN warned at a donor conference last month that the country is on the brink of famine. Of the $2.1 billion in funding needed to avert the looming catastrophe, only half was pledged by participating governments and international bodies.
The branch of the global jihadist movement in Yemen was formed in 2009 after mergers of smaller militant groups. It has strong alliances with Sunni tribes across the country.
Since Yemen descended into full-scale civil war in 2015, al-Qaeda as well as other extremist movements such as Isis have taken advantage of the chaos to greatly increase their footprint in the country - particularly in the lawless southern provinces.
al-Rimi, who made his comments from an undisclosed location inside Yemen, is one of the main targets of US drone strikes in the country, with a bounty on his head of $5 million.
In the early hours of last Sunday a US drone strike in southern Marib province killed five al-Qaeda members, local news and government officials reported.
The US has significantly increased its bombing of extremist targets in Yemen since President Donald Trump entered office in January.
The Pentagon has confirmed that more than 70 drone strikes have been carried out since 28 February - more than double the number of strikes in 2016.
The accelerated campaign comes after the botched Navy Seal raid on an Aqap base in January thought to have killed up to 20 civilians, including an 8-year-old American citizen.