Wr.: Nora EL-Bandari, Tr.: Ahmed Seif EL-Din
The recently announced prisoner exchange between the Houthis and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) sheds light on the ongoing relationship between the Iranian-backed Houthi militia and the terrorist organization. Despite the Houthis’ attempts to deny any links with AQAP, the latter announced the exchange on February 14, 2023, and the Houthis were forced to reveal the deal on February 19, 2023.
The exchange involved the release of two AQAP militants, Al-Qaqa’ Al-Bihani and Muhid Al-Baidhani, in exchange for two Houthi prisoners. Ansar Al-Sharia, an AQAP branch in Yemen, announced the exchange through its media outlet, Mahan Al-Mujahid channel, which is affiliated with Al-Malahem Foundation, the organization’s media arm. The announcement emphasized that AQAP will intensify its efforts to release the remaining prisoners held by the Houthis. This was confirmed by SITE Intelligence Group, which specializes in tracking armed groups.
Following AQAP’s announcement, the head of the Houthi prisoners’ committee, Abdulqader Al-Mortada, confirmed the exchange on February 19, 2023. He revealed that the Houthis had conducted a prisoner exchange a few days earlier, releasing three Houthi members in exchange for two AQAP militants. Yemeni media reported that the deal was the result of negotiations between AQAP leader Abdullah Alawi and Houthi representative Mohammed Salam Al-Nakhi.
Observers believe that the Houthis’ decision to strike a deal with AQAP and release militants at this time is an attempt to disrupt the Southern Forces’ efforts to control the south and to occupy them with fighting AQAP, allowing the Houthis to carry out attacks and attempt to seize new territories. The prisoner exchange also comes at a time when regional and international efforts are underway to renew the United Nations ceasefire agreement, which expired last October, due to the Houthis’ refusal to agree to its terms.
The exchange confirms long-standing reports of the Houthis’ relationship with AQAP. The Houthis’ alliance with Iran has provided AQAP with safe havens, resources, and a platform to launch attacks. AQAP has been able to expand its operations in Yemen, and its militants have taken part in Houthi offensives against the Yemeni government and coalition forces. This has raised concerns among Yemeni officials and the international community, who fear that the Houthis’ relationship with AQAP will further destabilize the country and the region.
The exchange has also highlighted the challenge of dealing with terrorist organizations in Yemen. AQAP is a serious threat to Yemen’s stability and security, and its ability to launch attacks against both the Houthis and Yemeni government forces means that it cannot be ignored. However, efforts to combat AQAP must be balanced with the need to address the root causes of the conflict in Yemen, including the Houthis’ rebellion and the humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the conflict.
In conclusion, the exchange between the Houthis and AQAP confirms the long-standing relationship between the two groups and highlights the challenges of dealing with terrorist organizations in Yemen. While efforts to combat AQAP must continue, they must also be balanced with a comprehensive approach that addresses the underlying causes of the conflict and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.