ADEN/DUBAI: Yemen’s Al-Qaeda wing has ordered men and women in the east to obey its strict interpretation of Islamic law, saying it aims to set up an emirate in the remote area, local media and a resident said.
The announcement by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will stoke concerns about the territorial ambitions of militant groups weeks after Al-Qaeda offshoot Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria declared its own caliphate across parts of the embattled countries.
AQAP – one of the most active branches of the global militant network – has been shifting its operations to Yemen’s eastern Hadramawt province after the army, backed by U.S. drones, helped drive it out of southern strongholds this year.
The impoverished country neighboring the world’s biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, is also facing southern separatists, northern rebels and political turmoil that surged after 2011 protests unseated president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Leaflets in AQAP’s name have been distributed in shops, streets and villages in rural Hadramawt over the past two days, Saleh Barzeeq, a shop owner in the town of Seiyun told Reuters, confirming media reports.
“These leaflets warned women from going to shops or going out without being accompanied by a mahram [male guardian],” he said.
According to a report in Al-Ayyam newspaper, one statement read: “AQAP warns male and female Muslims in Wadi Hadramawt that they must adhere to the laws of Islamic Shariah after the debauchery that we have seen in the souks. We warn all women that they have to adhere to the Shariah-enforced hijab and [wear gloves] ... men must not enter women’s souks unless strictly necessary ... Whoever violates this, will have to bear punishment,” Reuters has not seen a copy of the leaflet.
The statement also forbade women from taking part in any sports and declared the measures would pave the way for setting up an Islamic emirate in Wadi Hadramawt, Barzeeq added.
Women in traditionally conservative Yemen already generally wear full veils that cover their face and body and in rural areas especially, keep a low profile. The constitution says Islamic law, Shariah, is the source for all legislation, though the state does not enforce all parts of it.
Another statement circulated on social media that was attributed to Ansar al-Shariah, Al-Qaeda’s local name, warned “all the corrupt officials in Hadramawt who have stolen and looted citizens’ properties ... that we will enforce God’s law on them, which is cutting off their hands, after we kidnap and discipline them.”
In May, suspected Al-Qaeda militants raided Seiyun, and targeted the main military posts, the local police headquarters, bank branches and the airport, in an attack that left 27 people dead.
AQAP in 2011 declared a number of Islamic “emirates” in southern towns, exploiting a security vacuum during the protests.
The army drove them out a year later, but during their tenure, residents said they woke people at dawn to pray and chopped off the hands of thieves.