An American language teacher was shot by two gunman on a motorcycle while driving his car in the city of Taiz, some 173 miles southwest of Yemen’s capital of Sana, on Sunday morning. According to the BBC, the teacher was the deputy director of a Swedish language center and was driving to work. The al-Qaeda-linked militant group Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility, saying that the killing was “in response to a Western campaign to preach Christianity among Muslims.” The region’s provincial governor, Hamoud al-Sufi, said that an investigation had begun.
Last week, a Swiss woman working as a researcher was abducted in the central city of Hodeida. She is said to be held in in Shabwa province which is next to Abyan province, whose capital, Zinjibar, has been under the control of militants since last year. Yemeni authorities have blamed tribesmen; the tribesmen themselves have denied the accusations and said militants are responsible. According to the Guardian, such kidnappings were already common even before the uprising in Yemen, with abductors using hostages (who have usually not been harmed) to bargain for cash or for the release of Yemeni prisoners.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s president for 33 years, stepped down in November of last year, after months of popular protests. But as the New York Times says, Saleh’s finally agreeing to transfer power was only a “prerequisite” for addressing the challenges that existed in Yemen which “even before the crisis embodied characteristics of a failed state.”
Notably, the New York Times highlights growing unrest in Yemen’s south, where they have been calls for secession and where Ansar al-Sharia’s influence has increased, in part because the government has spent the past year seeking to control anti-government protests. Ansar al-Sharia has claimed responsibility for killing some 100 soldiers at a military post just west of Zinjibar, and also says that it has captured other soldiers. Indeed, militants have begun to function as a “de facto government” in the provinces of Abyan and Shabwa, passing out food rations and offering “some sense of security with their own police force and court system based on strict interpretations of Islamic law.” The government largely pulled security forces out of the south a year ago.
North and South Yemen were unified in 1990. The port city of Aden in Abyan province was once the capital of an independent nation; the New York Times reports a sharp upsurge in crime and buildings scrawled with graffiti proclaiming “Free the occupied south.” Sheikh Tariq Abdullah, a lawyer in Aden who has been practicing since British colonialists were in power over 50 years ago, says simply that “there is no central leadership” now in Yemen and that “We have no economy. There is no foundation anymore for an independent country. We will just end up fighting among ourselves.”
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Photo of Taiz by Sallam