SANA'A // The announcement by al Qa'eda in Yemen of a new "Aden-Abyan army" is an attempt by the militant group to attract supporters from the country's restive south, analysts say.
Aden and Abyan are two provinces in the south where a secessionist movement fuelled by popular anger at the central government is gaining momentum.
Fadhal Mubarak, an Abyan journalist, said the deteriorating security situation there plus resentment and frustration with the government provide the group with both a lawless environment and a potentially sympathetic population.
"Al Qa'eda is benefiting from the unrest in the south. There is a broad discontent in Abyan and the south at large," Mr Mubarak said.
He added that although the separatists and al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have different goals, the more militant southerners might be persuaded to align with the terrorist group. AQAP is the Yemeni branch of al Qa'eda.
"There is a broad political and ideological difference between the two groups, [and] the southern movement activists believe [al Qa'eda] have been the allies of the government. However, furious people who believe in violence in the separatist movement might become allied with AQAP," Mr Mubarak said.
Saeed Obaid al Jemhi, a Yemeni expert on al Qa'eda, said the militant group is also seeking to attract recruits in the south by highlighting the region's importance.
According to a controversial hadith, Aden and Abyan are the areas cited by Prophet Mohammed from where an army of 12,000 Muslims would emerge to fight before judgment day.
Mr al Jemhi said: "Young men will be more motivated and encouraged to join al Qa'eda when it tells them the army the Prophet heralded is now there and ready to fight and defend the religion.
The military commander of Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Qassim al Raimi, on Monday announced the creation of an "Aden-Abyan Army" to free the country of "crusaders and their apostate agents".
"This army is in its early stages," he said, calling for help from jihadists and their supporters in the online audio message.
For the past three years, the south has been hit by angry protests by people complaining about economic and political marginalisation. Scores have been killed and wounded and hundreds arrested in repeated clashes between government troops and activists of the Southern Movement, which is seeking to re-establish an independent southern state.
The name - Aden Abyan Army - is not new. It emerged in 1998 when the group, then unaffiliated with al Qa'eda, made a series of statements that expressed support for the overthrow of the Yemeni government and for operations against US and other western interests in Yemen.
Before that, Yemen's jihadists were allies of the present regime and fought with the forces of the current president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in the 1994 civil war in which the north defeated the south.
"The announcement on the establishment of the army shows that al Qa'eda has been able to convince the old jihadists to join hands and work together and al Qa'eda's decision to keep the name of Aden-Abyan army is a tactic meant to attract those old jihadists who were once operating under the same name," Mr al Jemhi said.
In its second edition of Inspire, an English-language propaganda magazine published last week, AQAP said that it is gaining ground because of the increasing tension in the south and the growing hatred towards the government, adding: "There are new brothers joining the ranks of the mujaheddin almost on a daily basis."
Mohammed Saif Haidar, a Yemeni researcher specialising in al Qa'eda at the Sana'a-based Saba Centre for Strategic Studies, said the announcement made by Mr al Raimi means the recent increase in deadly attacks by the group will continue, and that it is attempting to broaden its reach.
"The organisation is becoming an increasingly serious menace, not only inside Yemen but across the borders … they are trying to say that they have enough fighters and they are seeking to recruit well-educated people with scientific knowledge to be used in making explosives to achieve both their local and international objectives," Mr Haidar said.
Al Qa'eda's campaign against the Yemeni government continued yesterday. Its fighters ambushed a military convoy and killed three soldiers in Abyan, a security official said, two days after a similar ambush killed five soldiers in the province.
A Frenchman killed by a security guard in Yemen at the Austrian company where they worked was killed in a terrorist crime rather than for personal reasons as first believed, the interior minister said yesterday.
"The perpetrator had contacts with elements of al Qa'eda," official media quoted Motahar Rashad al Masri as saying without elaborating. The ministry published the names of eight al Qa'eda suspects yesterday, and is offering nearly US$100,000 (Dh367,000) for information on each of the men.
* With additional reporting by AP and Agence France-Presse