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In early December 2015, two Yemeni towns, Zinjibar (the provincial capital of Abyan Governorate) and Ja'ar (a town a few km inland to the north), were captured by the jihadist group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Zinjibar was retaken by pro-government forces 14 August 2016.[2] This was the second capture and occupation of Zinjibar during unrest in Yemen. The town was earlier taken by AQAP’s in May 2011 and held until the summer of 2012.[3]

Fall of Zinjibar and Jaar
Part of the Yemeni Civil War (2015–present)
Members of AQAP in Jaar April 28, 2012.jpg
Members of AQAP in a checkpoint in Jaar April 28, 2012
Date2–3 December 2015 (1 day)

AQAP victory

  • Al-Qaeda declares "Emirate of Jaar" and "Emirate of Zinjibar"
al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

Yemen Yemen Army (Hadi government)

Southern Movement

Commanders and leaders
Abu Hamza al-Zinjibari Yemen Abdullatif al-Sayed

Yemen Al-Khader Haidan[1]
Yemen Ali al-Sayed  
Unknown Unknown
Casualties and losses
5+ killed 22+ killed

Zinjibar is close to the port of Aden, and the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb,[4] and between Aden and (what was) the AQAP's stronghold of Mukalla.[5] The al Qaeda takeover of two towns has been seem by some as a demonstration of its interest in seizing territory and not just "conducting spectacular attacks against Western targets".[3]



Zinjibar lies on the Gulf of Aden, about 54 km from Yemen's second city Aden, east of the "strategic" strait of Bab al-Mandab (about three million barrels of oil pass through the strait daily).[4] Control of Ja'ar would also have made it easier for AQAP to bring supplies from its (former) stronghold of Mukalla, in Hadramawt province, to attack Aden.[5]

2011-2 fightingEdit

Zinjibar was under AQAP’s control from May 2011 until the summer of 2012, when they were driven out with the help of American airstrikes.[1][3] In 2011, the "Yemeni Revolution" protest movement to end the 33 years of rule by President Ali Abdullah Saleh created a "power vacuum" in parts of Yemen. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters seized a number of towns in Abyan—including the city of Jaar in March 2011 and Zinjibar in May. They later captured a football stadium outside Zinjibar which they used as "a makeshift army base".[4]

The "emirate" created by ASAP was noted as time when Al Qaeda sought to emphasize (and publicize in a media campaign) not strict sharia law, but "uncharacteristically gentle" good governance over conquered territory—rebuilding infrastructure, quashing banditry, and resolving legal disputes.[6] However, "clemency drained away under the pressure of war".[6] After months of fighting, by mid-2011 Aljazeera reported that "dozens have been killed and an estimated 54,000 civilians have fled Abyan," and that tribesman formerly allied with AQAP had switched sides and begun backed Yemeni forces in their quest take back Zinjibar from AQAP.[4] According to New York Times correspondent Robert Worth, the failure of this gentle style of jihadi rule may have "taught" jihadis a lesson later demonstrated by ISIS, that fear and terror were needed to instill obedience and prevent neutral citizens under their rule from eventually becoming enemies.[6]


Houthi rebels later took control of Zinjibar, but in August 2015 fighters loyal to President Hadi, with the help of Saudi airstrikes, pushed the Houthi out of Zinjibar.[3]

2015 battleEdit

By early October 2015, AQAP fighters had reportedly captured some government buildings in Zinjibar, expelling government fighters and establishing Sharia courts.[7] Using these strongholds al-Qaeda's fighters stormed Jaar and the rest of Zinjibar during the dawn of 1 December 2015. The towns were captured immediately with relatively little fighting, despite local reinforcements from commanders and troops loyal to Yemen's government.[8] In 2 December, AQAP quit Jaar after a raid that left more than 15 Hadi loyalists and the Hadi loyal commander Ali al-Sayed dead. However, they reportedly returned the next morning.[5][9] The local commander loyal to president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and at least 6 other fighters were reportedly killed in the battle fighting AQAP, along with at least five AQAP fighters.[10]


After the complete fall of the two cities, al-Qaeda declared "Emirates" in the two towns providing civilian services, and establishing a Sharia court. The AQAP offensive was led by Abu Hamza al-Zinjibari, who was "emir" of the Abyan Governorate territory held by AQAP since the 2011 declaration of their Emirate. It is reported that AQAP plowed up the house of the local commander loyal to president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

Some months later, in 27 of March, 2016, three suspected US drone strikes hit AQAP positions inside their government buildings onside Zinjibar, reportedly killing some 14 AQAP soldiers.[11] Three days after the take over, AQAP issued a bounty of 7 million Yemeni riyals ($32,500) on the head of the pro-government Popular Committee,[3] Abdullatif al-Sayed, alleging he had "stabbed the mujahedeen in the back".[5]

The Yemeni government's preoccupation with fighting Houthi rebels prevented it from sending reinforcements from Aden to assist the Abyan fighters loyal to the government.[1][12]


On 14 August 2016, Yemeni government forces backed by Arab coalition aircraft and gunboats reportedly retook Zinjibar from AQAP. The push to retake the town had encountered "repeated suicide attacks" against Yemeni forces.[2]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Mohammed Mukhashaf (2 December 2015). "Al Qaeda militants take over two south Yemen towns, residents say". Reuters. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Yemen: Government Forces Retake Zinjibar From Al Qaeda Militants". Stratfor. 14 August 2016. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Al Qaeda seizes town, provincial capital in southern Yemen". The Long War Journal. 2 December 2015. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d "Yemeni army attacks fighters around Zinjibar". AlJazeera. 17 July 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Qaeda offers bounty for head of Yemen pro-government force | Middle East Eye |5 December 2015
  6. ^ a b c Worth, Robert F. (2016). A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, from Tahrir Square to ISIS. Pan Macmillan. p. 173. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  7. ^ Yemen's al-Qaeda branch now in control of several Aden neighbourhoods| AFP |middle east eye |22 October 2015 |Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  8. ^ "AQAP, Houthis, Saudis: Yemen′s multifaction civil war - World - DW.COM - 08.12.2015". DW.COM. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  9. ^ ISIS militants kill two Yemen tribesmen| AFP | |3 December 2015 |Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  10. ^ "Al-Qaeda seizes key Yemeni towns from pro-Hadi forces". Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  11. ^ Suspected U.S. air strikes in Yemen kill 14 militants: residents, medics| reuters| March 27, 2016 |Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  12. ^ "Al Qaeda seizes town, provincial capital in southern Yemen". The Long War Journal. Retrieved 6 March 2016.