The Assault on Yemen’s Ministry of Defense:
A War of Images, Values and Wills
By: AbdulElah Hider Shyea
With my own eyes, I witnessed in the dungeons of Yemen’s political security prisons how they manufacture people like the man that Ansar al-Shari’ah described, in their last video release, as “al-Battar from Bilad al-Haramayn (Saudi Arabia).” He killed, in cold blood, innocent people in the hospital of the Ministry of Defense compound in Sanaa. I also witnessed how American intelligence services try to turn people they arrest or kidnap into spies through the use of systematic physical and psychological torture. These procedures are even used on people who have mental or physical handicaps, often under the supervision of the Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed Bin Naif, the regional executive manager of these programs that take names like al-Munasaha (co-advising).
Sheikh Usama Bin Laden wrote before his death, in secret internal communications, that “those who commit crimes like these should not remain in the ranks of the Mujahideen.” Criminal conducts like these, he said, are more akin to the culture of pre-Islamic Jahiliyya than they are to Islam, and only an enemy agent hidden within the ranks or an ignorant person would commit such crimes. He stressed that “the ranks of the Mujahideen should be cleaned and sanitized from such a stain.” Were such incidents to happen, wrote Bin Laden, it would be wrong to remain silent about them. “For these are not operational or organizational secrets and our silence about the truth [al-Haqq] weather it is in our favor or against us, would make us look complicit and appear like we are glorifying killers and praising them after their death.” He ordered al-Qaeda commanders, “to denounce such acts and declare our innocence from them sincerely not just as an empty media gesture.”
From the Heart of the Event
On December 5th 2013 and after Abd Rabbo al-Danbou’ (seen by many as Yemen’s next president) entered his office in the Ministry of Defense in Sanaa, nine gunmen from Ansar al-Shari’ah stormed the complex, which contains the office of the transitional president, the leadership of the Ministry of Defense, the Chiefs of Staff, and the hospital. The gunmen used a car bomb to open the way. They lost one fighter at the gate, but the others split up and assaulted different headquarters in the Ministry. al-Battar, though, strayed on his own and entered the hospital. The others went burning and blowing up the finance office of the ministry and the headquarters that operate the drone war. Yemeni and American officers jointly run these offices. It is in these offices that they train agents and distribute tracking SIM cards that guide US predator drones.
The fighting went on for nearly 24 hours and was only ended when the Yemeni army used tanks and killed both the gunmen and the Yemeni officers who were there. Because the gunmen were wearing Yemeni military uniforms, the anti-terrorism brigade was given orders to kill whoever was on the scene in military uniform, regardless of their rank without distinguishing between rebels and military personnel. 200 military officers were killed and hundreds were injured. About 30 foreign military advisors and medical doctors – mostly American and German – were also killed. The 9 gunmen from Ansar al-Shari’ah – not 12 as the investigation committee said – were also killed in the fighting.
The Battle of Legitimacy
Ansar al-Shari’ah’s success in penetrating the regime’s security and military institution is the result of the collapse of the regime’s ethical values and its administrative institutions, although the political faces and the ideology representing the regime remain in place. In a way, the assault on the Ministry of Defense shows that the Yemeni Revolution, in another one of its images, as a system of values and ideas continues. One of the most important factors that made people go out to protest in the streets is the fact that the regime was running the country on lies. Wikileaks documents have shown the ease with which the regime has been facilitating US assassinations of Yemenis. It also revealed the regime’s cover up of the slaughter by US marines in the city of Ma’ajala on December 17, 2009. This is what started the protests and made people demand the fall of America’s agents in Yemen. Ansar al-Shari’ah is part of this society and people joined it to achieve this purpose because they saw the futility of peaceful protests. But the broadcast of the footage from the hospital of the Defense Ministry has put the Global Jihad Movement in front of its biggest challenge to win hearts and minds and legitimacy.
King Abdel Aziz City of Science and Technology, which provides Yemen with Internet, filters online content and often traps activists, exploited the situation and posted the footage of the hospital on YouTube. This was the first incident perpetrated by al-Qaeda fighters that was not only documented on film, but also acknowledged by al-Qaeda. It presented a golden opportunity for al-Qaeda’s opponents to confirm what they have always accused it of. Of course, the footage did not show the killing of American, French and German citizens, and this has to do with the dignity and respect accorded to Western lives.
The Conflict of Values
Arguments erupted between people: some tried to defend al-Qaeda and argue its innocence from the murders in al-Aridi Hospital, and others tried to settle old political scores. Adding to people’s confusion was the pre-revolution mentality with which the media treated the event, stressing the danger of terrorism and ignoring local and international belligerence. Ansar al-Shari’ah spoilt the speculations when it broke its silence and shocked people with a confession of guilt. The perpetrator of the killings in the hospital of the Ministry of Defense was one of their soldiers. They told the truth even though it was not in their favor,
What made Ansar al-Shari’ah take full responsibility, though the acts were heinous, is their realization that they are fighting a battle of values over truth, fairness and justice. They know they will loose the battle if they are not honest and if they don’t testify to what is right (haqq) even if it is against themselves. As Bin Laden said in his memos: “because this is about religion and the enjoining of what’s good and the objection to what is wrong or the disassociation from it. Acts like these are unjust and injustice is one of the factors of defeat, and will have considerable consequences.” These were Bin Laden’s instructions to his emirs, including Abu Basir the head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), few months before he was killed. The US government released some of these letters but these important passages were redacted.
This is not the first time that an al-Qaeda targets heavily fortified military or security locations and unarmed people or people who are not fighting the Global Jihad are harmed. Indeed, on November 9, 2005, three simultaneous explosions targeted the biggest hotels in the Jordanian capital, including Hayat Amman, which has a pavilion for king Abdullah of Jordan. The media focused all attention on the wedding hall at the Radison. Zarqawi acknowledged then the operation and said that the innocent people were not targeted. He dared Jordan’s government to broadcast footage from other surveillance cameras in the hotel that shows the target to be a meeting of American and Jewish security agents. Of course the Jordanian government never broadcasted the footage. AQAP’s Qasem al-Rimi did not ask the Yemeni government to broadcast footage from surveillance cameras other than that of the hospital to show the fighting that took place for an entire day within the Ministry of Defense.
Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi was killed in Iraq on November 8, 2006, after the Amman Hotels operation, and a spokesman for Jordan’s monarchy said that his government helped US occupation forces find Zarqawi’s location. The state that Zarqawi founded, however, gained the support of many Iraqi tribes and continued to expand. At the end of 2013, its influence extends from Kirkuk in the north, through Baghdad, to al-Ghouta in the countryside of Damascus. It is now called The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shaam.
Bin Laden had insisted in a statement he taped before his death on the necessity to distinguish between “the Emir of Jihad and the General Emir or the Khalifa” and urged that a committee be formed urgently by scholars who have not been implicated by service to tyrannical regimes to provide guidance for the revolutions – what in Islamic jurisprudence is called “ahlu al-hall wa al-‘aqd” – and ensure that areas where tyrannical regimes fall be governed by Shari’ah. It is very likely that the footage from the hospital of the Ministry of Defense was broadcast in order to prevent the increased sovereignty of Islam in Muslim areas where tyrannical regimes have fallen. The increased popularity of Islam across the world makes its enemies always on the lookout for mistakes to use against it.
Make no mistake about it, the crimes of al-Ardi hospital that al-Qaeda renounced and denounced were heinous that indeed cannot be justified and should be condemned. May Allah have mercy on the victims. The killing of innocent civilians in cold blood does not serve Islam and Muslims. On the contrary it puts them in a position that is contrary to the values and laws of Islam. But it is equally important that the shocking crimes of al-Ardi hospital do not simply result in crying and condemnation. Experts in Shari’ah and Islamic jurisprudence – especially those who have an impact on Jihadi groups and movements that claim to fight for Islam – should stress that crimes like these do not serve Islam; they deform its image. This is important to prevent any group or movement from monopolizing Islam in the name of Allah, the nation, the revolution or the war on terror.