Yemen’s fragile and reversible gains against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are threatened by a new challenge: The re-emergence of a violent secessionist movement in the south. Southern Movement violence has spiked significantly over the past seven days, and is drawing on Yemen’s limited military resources and political attention. Those resources were already strained to the breaking point managing the political transition in Sana’a and retaking territory from AQAP and its insurgent affiliate, Ansar al Sharia. If this violent secessionist movement continues, it is not clear that Yemen will be able to maintain, let alone expand, its gains against terrorists that threaten the United States and the West.
Clashes involving a militant faction of Yemen’s separatist Southern Movement erupted over the weekend across the southern governorates of Aden, Abyan, al Dhaleh, Shabwah, and Hadramawt. The resumption of violent demonstrations in the south – not seen since President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office a year ago – is reminiscent of the years before Yemen’s Arab Spring. Yemen was once split into two states, which were reunited in 1990. The south attempted to split away again in 1994, prompting a bloody civil war and inflaming north-south tensions that linger to this day. The current Southern Movement formed in 2007. It is a loose grouping of disparate elements that does not speak with a clear voice. Some factions of the Southern Movement are armed and conduct attacks against government targets in Yemen’s south. But the movement had not previously shown the ability to conduct coordinated attacks on this scale.
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