Analysts say al-Qaeda's policy of assassinating mid-level opponents is clear evidence of the organisation's weaknesses, particularly in the Arabian Peninsula.
Over the past few months, Yemen has witnessed a number of assassinations that the Ministry of Defence has attributed to al-Qaeda, the most recent of which was the killing of Tawfiq Ali Mansour al-Juneidi on December 2nd.
On its website, the ministry said that al-Junaidi, commander of the Popular Committees against al-Qaeda in the Lauder directorate of Abyan province, died of wounds from an improvised explosive device targeting him and a number of his colleagues.
Dr. Saeed Obaid al-Jamhi, president of the al-Jamhi Centre for Studies and Research, spoke about the al-Qaeda's policy of assassination in an interview with Al-Shorfa.
"Assassination is one of the strategies al-Qaeda uses against its enemies, and the value of the target of the assassination is an indicator of the organization's state of affairs," he told Al-Shorfa.
"The recent assassinations carried out by al-Qaeda against the leader of the Popular Committees in Lauder and security and anti-terrorism officials is evidence of the organisation's current weakness because those individuals are not shielded by security guards and the organisation can encounter them in the qat market or in their cars in the street, and therefore anyone can attempt an assassination against them," he said.
"Therefore, al-Qaeda did not achieve victory in assassinating those individuals, as much as it gave us an indication of the state of weakness it is in," al-Jamhi said.
Other recent assassination attempts include an attack on Col. Ali al-Hajji, head of the anti-terrorism unit in Aden and commander of the Central Security Forces' anti-terrorism battalion. Al-Hajji was killed by a roadside bomb planted by suspected terrorists while passing through the Arish area on October 28th.
Chief Prosecutor Khaled al-Maori of Hadramaut's Criminal Court survived an assassination attempt by suspected al-Qaeda members on October 23rd when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded in his house in Mukalla. The explosion destroyed the doors and windows of the house.
Dr. Fares al-Saqqaf, head of the Centre for Future Studies, told Al-Shorfa that assassination attempts are one of al-Qaeda's instruments of war. Al-Saqqaf described assassinations as "individualistic jihad, in which two or three al-Qaeda members decide to eliminate someone who stands in the way of the implementation of their plans".
Al-Saqqaf said another motive for al-Qaeda assassinations is to avenge the killing of a number of the organization's leaders through air strikes by the Yemeni government or as a result of its co-operation with foreign powers.
"Al-Qaeda resorted to assassination after it failed in military confrontation," al-Saqqaf said. "It is currently at its most vulnerable stage, especially since it does not have a political vision or programme, and wants to overthrow regimes through a policy of bombing and assassination."
Al-Saqqaf said al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is going through an especially difficult period since Saudi Arabia succeeded in rooting the organisation out of its territory.
He said he expects al-Qaeda's membership to drop in the next few years, especially if current economic plans and freedom of political and religious action are implemented.
Dr. Saeed Abdel-Mumin al-Ariqi, a researcher of Islamist groups, likens al-Qaeda to "underground movements that are opposed to the status quo and resort to any means to achieve their goals".
"The history of underground movements, both leftist and rightist, is filled with political assassinations, which result in greater media coverage than victory on the battlefield. Nonetheless, al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen is evidently using these methods against mid-level commanders of security agencies' anti-terrorism units, which requires less effort, modest resources, and quick planning and control since those targeted figures are usually unprotected and do not take extensive security precautions," al-Ariqi said.
"From the viewpoint of al-Qaeda's fighters, targeting [Muslim] citizens is standard procedure since they are obstacles to the fulfilment of its plans to seize control of Yemen and turn it into a base from which to confront [what they see as] global imperialism."
"This is reminiscent of the bombing and assassination campaigns carried out by revolutionary movements in other countries around the world, which were ultimately consigned to oblivion, and also of jihadist movements in Egypt in the previous century. They carried out bombings and killings and spread terror, and ultimately reviewed and corrected their course and ideology, but not before they shed much blood."
Al-Ariqi said Yemenis were capable of creating a new order based on the respect of authority for the will of the people and for a free and fair country, which would "certainly influence armed movements, including al-Qaeda, to change their policies and opt for a peaceful and legitimate course of action in accordance with the constitution and the law".