Yemen’s al-Qaeda Takes Hands-Off Approach in Seized City

Adapts ISIS Model of Courting Local Tribes in Mukalla

Having seized the port city of Mukalla, Yemen’s al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is adopting a strategy that simultaneously mirrors ISIS tactics, and seeks to distance themselves from the rival Islamist group.

On the one hand, AQAP is taking a very hands-off approach to ruling Mukalla, leaving it under the control of a local tribal council. This is straight out of ISIS’ playbook, as much of their rapid expansion in Syria involved taking over territory and turning it over to tribes.

At the same time, AQAP is hoping to present this as a more moderate stance than ISIS takes, emphasizing that they haven’t banned music or the wearing of short pants.

This hands-off approach is very much in keeping with ISIS tactics in smaller towns and villages, where they’ve mostly let the tribes run their own affairs, within reason. This alliance of convenience with the tribes lasts as long as the Islamist faction needs it to, and once they decide the city is either too important or that the tribes are getting too strong, they too get swept aside.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of