DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, reacting to the loss of its strongholds to Shi’ite Houthi fighters, has accused its opponents of acting as a proxy for the United States and threatened renewed violence against them.
In an audio message on jihadist websites, al AQAP’s military commander Qassim al-Raymi called the Houthis “the new rented gun for the enemies of Islam”.
“You have to know that the mosques of Muslims that you blew up along with their homes and schools, will not just pass unnoticed and you will pay the price dearly,” he said.
The Houthis’ Ansarullah movement has become the main political force in Western-allied Yemen since it captured the capital Sanaa in September and then pushed into the Sunni Muslim heartland of al-Bayda province, where Ansar al-Sharia, the local AQAP affiliate, has allied itself with tribes.
Houthi fighters backed by government forces drove Ansar al-Sharia from one of its last strongholds in central Yemen last week.
Raymi’s message - which Reuters could not immediately verify - signaled more violence between the Sunni militants and the Houthi fighters, whom AQAP view as heretics.
“The account is long and it has not yet been opened. So be prepared to pay for it with your souls and selves. Do you think that your crimes will pass by without judgment or punishment?”
He said that al-Bayda and Sanaa had been handed over to the Houthis under orders from the United States.
Yemen has been in turmoil since 2011, to the dismay of neighboring Saudi Arabia and Western powers, who want to prevent instability in the Arabian peninsula threatening their oil supplies or giving al Qaeda a base for overseas attacks.
AQAP militants have launched attacks from there against the West. Washington regards Yemen as an important ally in its fight against Islamist militants and has used drones there.
Separately, an AQAP official criticized the leader of the Islamic State group and rejected his self-declared caliphate, the SITE monitoring service said.
Harith bin Ghazi al-Nadhari, AQAP’s top Sharia official, in a speech circulated on jihadist websites, also reaffirmed the group’s allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri and Taliban chief Mullah Omar.
Last month AQAP had expressed support for Islamic State against what it described as a “crusade alliance”, referring to the U.S.-led air strikes on the insurgents in Iraq and Syria.
Reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Yara Bayoumy, Editing by Angus MacSwan