Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Liberation of Mukalla brings new hope to Yemenis

Cheaper goods, access to medication and aid, and greater freedoms - the residents of Mukalla heave a big sigh of relief as coalition forces help oust Al Qaeda.
The Emirates Red Crescent has begun sending aid to Mukalla since its liberation from Al Qaeda. The first plane carrying ERC aid landed in the city on May 8, 2016. Wam
The Emirates Red Crescent has begun sending aid to Mukalla since its liberation from Al Qaeda. The first plane carrying ERC aid landed in the city on May 8, 2016. Wam

Aden // Normal life is finally returning to Mukalla after Yemeni forces recaptured the southern port city from Al Qaeda last month.

The militants seized control of Mukalla, capital of Hadramout province, in April and imposed a strict interpretation of sharia across the city and wider district, leaving residents in permanent fear of being arrested.

Known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, and considered the most dangerous arm of the extremist group, they took over all the public institutions in the district, including the judiciary, and turned Mukalla’s only courthouse into a prison.

The insurgents also banned residents from listening to or playing music in public – even during wedding celebrations, where music traditionally plays an important role.

“Al Qaeda fighters jailed dozens of people inside the courthouse [without trial],” Ali Bahomaid, a judge in Mukalla, told The National. “Some were accused of bothering their neighbours by playing music, while others were accused of breaking Islamic laws.”

Since the liberation of Mukalla, he said, most of the people who were wrongly accused and jailed by Al Qaeda have been released. The judiciary has also resumed its work without any interference from AQAP and other groups of local militias.

Backed by the Saudi-led coalition, Yemeni forces loyal to president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi retook Mukalla and the wider district on April 24. The mainly Arab coalition states provided armoured vehicles for the operation and carried out air strikes on Al Qaeda targets.

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Read: Yemeni forces secure Mukalla after Al Qaeda rout

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Schools and universities have also felt the impact of Mukalla’s liberation. Under the extremists, female staff and students were forced to wear veils and long gowns.

“Islam does not tell girls to cover their faces, but Al Qaeda fighters have another understanding of Islam and they want to impose their opinions on the residents,” said Yasser Baqahoom, a high school teacher in Mukkala city.

Al Qaeda also coerced traders to pay extra monthly taxes. But now that they are gone, traders no longer have to pay additional taxes resulting in lower prices of goods for residents, said Mukalla-based journalist Mohammed Al Sharafi.

While hospitals in Mukalla had to continue operating during AQAP rule, they lacked some medicines due to a blockade on the port. Since the city’s liberation, however, the port has resumed operations and medicines can now be imported by boat.

The Emirates Red Crescent has also been able to deliver aid to Mukalla since its liberation. A plane carrying 20 tonnes of medicines and medical supplies from the ERC arrived at the city’s Al Riyan airport on Sunday, while 17 boats carrying food, medicines, generators and ambulances are due to arrive at the port in the coming days.

Before its liberation, aid groups were too afraid to enter Mukalla due to the presence of Al Qaeda elements.

Al Sharafi said the ERC distributed food aid to residents last week.“I can say that all people were afraid of Al Qaeda, not only the journalists, AQAP fighters would arrest people for the smallest thing,” Al Sharafi told The National, explaining that he too lived in fear of arrest and had to report anonymously during AQAP rule.

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Read: Mukalla win denies Aqap a foothold

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Despite Mukalla’s liberation, however, security in the rest of Hadramout continues to be a concern.

On Wednesday, Brig Gen Abdurrahman Al Halili – Yemeni commander of the first military region which is loyal to Mr Hadi – narrowly escaped death when a suicide bomber targeted his convoy in Hadramout’s Al Qaten district. Brig Gen Al Halili survived the attack but some of his guards were killed.

“Five guards and two civilians were killed, and 15 others, including Al Halili, were injured,” said Al Sharafi.

He said the car of the suicide bomber targeted the convoy in Al Khasha’a area, while the convoy was coming out of the first military barracks, 50km west of Al Qaten.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but militants from Al Qaeda and ISIL have repeatedly carried out attacks against Yemeni military and security forces in southern and eastern Yemen in recent months.

While pro-government forces have purged Al Qaeda from Mukalla, the militants have spread to other districts such as Al Qaten and there are concerns they may continue to target the officials and the public institutions there.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* with additional reporting from Reuters

Updated: May 11, 2016 04:00 AM

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