Financing The Jihad : Al Qaeda Kidnappings In Yemen By Haykal Bafana

Kidnappings in Yemen is an issue one gets used to hearing about when getting involved in this precious country. During all my 4 visits I have heard that there´s a chance that I myself would get kidnapped. I have just smiled it away and said, it won´t happen. And it didn´t. However, I have realized since I left Yemen about a year ago that things have changed dramatically on this front and a week ago I was shocked to read on Facebook that two people I have met and cared for in Yemen, have been kidnapped. Judith Spiegel and her husband Beau. I am trying to keep updated with what is happening here, but it is hard to find out what really has transpired. It seems to be a kidnapping set in motion by one of the tribes around Hajjah, though this is not 100% confirmed. I hope this is true, because it makes me breathe easier, I worry much less and know they will survive. I just hope it is not Al Qaeda, who are ruthless beyond normal humanity and understanding. I have asked one person who´s opinion about Yemen I trust a lot, Haykal Bafana, to fill me readers in on this issue for better understanding. Stay strong Judith and Beau!

Financing The Jihad : Al Qaeda Kidnappings In Yemen


Haykal Bafana


Recent kidnappings of foreigners in Yemen reveal an interesting development. The kidnappings in themselves do not stand out – they represent an age old tribal practice in ‎Yemen, ‎where the hostages are used to strengthen a tribe’s bargaining position with the power of ‎the day. ‎Usually, negotiations between the Yemen government & the tribe are rapidly commenced, ‎and once a ‎mutually agreeable settlement is reached, the hapless hostage is released unharmed. ‎

But 3 consecutive kidnappings of foreigners recently have apparently resulted in Al Qaeda ‎having ‎custody of the hostages :

(1) A Swiss woman was kidnapped in Hodeidah, western Yemen, on 14 March 2012. News began ‎to ‎surface soon after in Yemeni press sources that she had been spirited away to Shabwa province, ‎& ‎handed over by the tribal kidnappers to Al Qaeda. ‎

(2) In Aden, the consul general of Saudi Arabia was kidnapped on 28 Mar 2012. Initially, local ‎sources ‎indicated that a personal issue was involved & that negotiations between a woman’s family & ‎the ‎Saudi Arabian embassy were in progress. 2 weeks ago, local news began to report that the consul general ‎was ‎in Al Qaeda custody in Abyan province.‎ ‎

(3) On 22 April 2012, a French man working for the International Committee of the Red Cross ‎was ‎kidnapped near Hodeidah. And already, news is emerging that he is allegedly in Shabwa province in Al ‎Qaeda ‎custody. ‎

At this stage, there is no confirmation that all 3 foreign hostages are actually being held by Al Qaeda. It is rare for ‎foreign ‎or even Yemeni media to penetrate the Al Qaeda held areas in Abyan & Shabwa to confirm the ‎truth ‎of these reports. Further, the partisan propaganda being produced by Yemeni press outlets in the last 6 weeks has reached truly ridiculous levels & one is driven to dismiss a large majority of the news reported.

Nevertheless, assuming that the hostages are indeed in Al Qaeda custody, a number of explanations can be hypothesized. ‎

First, one possibility is that Al Qaeda itself was behind the kidnappings. This would be a startling ‎new ‎development, as kidnappings have never been part of mainstream Al Qaeda methodology, ‎whether in ‎Yemen or elsewhere. Indeed, it is a troubling idea that Al Qaeda can extend its ‎geographical scope of ‎operations to Hodeidah (twice) as well as Aden, & spirit the kidnap victims ‎hundreds of kilometers back ‎to Abyan & Shabwa, past a multitude of security checkpoints. Further, it would mean that Al ‎Qaeda mounted these ‎kidnappings in the midst of an ongoing bloody crackdown by the military in ‎Abyan & Shabwa, & adds ‎emphasis to their impressive tactical capabilities in Yemen. ‎

A second, & more likely, possibility is that Al Qaeda may have made it known that kidnappers will be paid for ‎the ‎release of foreign hostages into Al Qaeda custody. The kidnappers of the Swiss woman ‎reportedly ‎accepted a US$50,000 payment to hand her over to Al Qaeda custody. The Saudi consul ‎general ended ‎up in Al Qaeda custody, after negotiations between the woman’s family & the Saudi ‎embassy over a ‎sum of approximately US$40,000 got bogged down. For the French man kidnapped on ‎‎22 April, Yemeni ‎press is already reporting that he is in Al Qaeda custody in Shabwa. In this scenario, ‎it ‎is reasonable to assume that the tribal kidnappers would readily hand over custody to Al Qaeda ‎in ‎exchange for money – the current Yemeni government is overwhelmed by a slate of critical problems, & is probably unable to ‎perform its usual role of mediating with the tribesmen.‎


Whatever the truth may be, such kidnappings are likely to be a profitable enterprise for Al Qaeda, as ‎a ‎means to finance its operations in Yemen & abroad. It is known that in light of tight controls ‎imposed ‎on finance from sympathizers in the GCC states & elsewhere, as well as the lack of funding ‎sources ‎within Yemen itself, that Al Qaeda is financially stretched. With the recent escalation of military attacks by Yemeni & American forces in Abyan & Shabwa, it is clear Al Qaeda needs to fund its “jihad”. From this perspective, the kidnapping of foreigners in Yemen may ‎be the ‎solution that Al Qaeda has found to finance its activities. ‎

Such an idea is likely to have its genesis in the kidnappings of the 3 French aid workers near Seiyun, Hadhramaut province ‎in ‎May 2011. The initial news was that tribal captors were involved, with some unspecified local grievances. 3 months later, news ‎suddenly ‎emerged that the French were in the custody of Al Qaeda militants in Shabwa. The 3 ‎aid ‎workers were finally released in November 2011 & flown from Shabwa to Oman, amidst much ‎secrecy. ‎Oman had apparently paid off on behalf of the French government, in part or in whole, the ‎massive ‎US$12 million ransom demanded by Al Qaeda. ‎

Such a huge ransom paid would certainly sustain Al Qaeda operations in Yemen for an extended period ‎of ‎time. And the incident may have highlighted to Al Qaeda the viability of foreigner kidnappings as a source of funding. For example, reports say that the sum demanded by Al Qaeda for the release of the Swiss woman is a staggering ‎US$66 ‎million.

While it is evidently clear on humanitarian grounds that all efforts must be made to ‎procure the ‎release of the foreign kidnap victims, the governments involved must be strongly discouraged from following the French example & paying the exorbitant ‎ransoms ‎being demanded, even if lives are lost. For with certainty, these ransoms will be used to further ‎perpetuate ‎the plague of Al Qaeda in Yemen, to the detriment of all Yemenis. This is ironic, when the ‎demands of ‎the international community have led to the sacrifice of hundreds of killed Yemeni ‎soldiers (and killed ‎civilians) in the war against Al Qaeda. ‎

In any event, whether the current spate of kidnappings are revealed eventually as Al ‎Qaeda ‎operations, or it transpires that Al Qaeda is now a “willing buyer” of hostages from tribal ‎kidnappers, ‎the extensive tableau of security problems faced by Yemen just got a little more ‎extended. ‎


Haykal Bafana writes this about himself: I am a Hadhrami and a Yemeni and a citizen of Singapore. The Prophet Hud and his son Qahtan are my ancestors, and I am of the tribe of Nuwwah in Hadhramaut. Singapore, Hadhramaut & Yemen are all my homelands. My clan & my tribe live in Yemen & Hadhramaut, in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Abu Dhabi, in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, and even in Kenya & Uganda.

My life is just another chapter of a story started many generations ago, and it is a common tale in Wadi Hadhramaut.

My father Khalid was born in Malaysia and was buried in Sanaa, while my grandfather Muhammad was born in Hadhramaut and passed away in Malaysia. My great grandfather Sa’id was born in Wadi Hadhramaut and died in Singapore. My great great grandfather Salim was born in Wadi Du’an & was buried in Taribah, Hadhramaut.

I was born and grew up in Singapore while I now live in Yemen & Hadhramaut. Like my ancestors, I know not where I will die.

Living in Yemen & Hadhramaut and travelling around the Middle East these past few years has been a fascinating experience for me. My writings are focused mostly on Yemen and Hadhramaut, a region of Southern Arabia which remain mysteries to the wider world. I hope my articles will give you some insight into these lands.

Visit his site here!


One comment

  1. As reported on this blog in May, 2012, the idea of political rebels using kidnapping to raise funds is not a new tactic.

    “The first modern hostage crisis occurred in 1901 when an American Long Rider Ellen Stone was kidnapped by Bulgarian revolutionary Yane Sandanski. He bragged to the media that he had “stolen” the woman so as to set his country free from the Ottoman empire. Despite being held captive in the mountains for six months, it was widely believed that Stone became sympathetic to the “terrorists.” When the American government refused to intervene, the $110,000 ransom was paid after an appeal was made to the public.”

    Whether you call them 20th century Bulgarian freedom fighters or 21st century Al Qaeda terrorists, history proves that every generation spawns evil men who are deluded into believing that any crime they perpetuate, including murder and kidnapping, is condoned by their misguided beliefs.

    CuChullaine O’Reilly FRGS

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