Last week, the Saudi government announced that the leader of ISIS in Yemen was captured in a joint raid with Yemeni forces.
According to official reports, the raid was conducted by Saudi and Yemeni special forces, with support from the U.S.
The Saudis identified the Islamic State leader as Abu Osama al-Masri, a nom de guerre indicating that he is likely an Egyptian. What’s more, apparently the raid in which al-Masri was captured was not a recent one, relatively speaking. Yemeni military brass said the operation took place on 3 June. It’s not clear why Saudi officials waited more than three weeks to announce the successful operation.
The recent operation highlights the efforts of the U.S. and its allies against the Islamic State over the past several years. Even prior to the group’s major territorial losses in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has begun to invest considerable resources in the North African country. Soon ISIS in Yemen became a force to be reckoned with. Attacks began almost immediately after the Yemen “province” of ISIS was formed. The most devastating took place in March 2015, when suicide bombers unleashed enormous blasts at two Shia mosques in Sanaa, killing 137 people.
Later that same year, ISIS fighters killed the governor of the southern port city of Aden and, in May 2016, a pair of Islamic State suicide bombings in the same city targeted young men seeking to join the army, killing at least forty- five.
By early 2015, the Yemen government recognized the “real competition” between ISIS and al-Qaeda’s branch in the country known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. Over four years later, the fight between AQAP and ISIS in Yemen is still waging. The groups battle constantly not just for territory but for recruiters as well.
Indeed the presence of the group in Yemen adds a layer of complexity to the war, the worst humanitarian crisis facing the world today. All of the stakeholders in the country, whether they by Saudi coalition partners or the U.S., need to be aware that their efforts do not come at the cost of carving out more space for ISIS in Yemen to operate.