Muhammed's Army

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Muhammed's Army

LEADERS: Abu al-Hassan; Khaled Abdennabi



In 1998, the Muhammad's Army, also called the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan, issued its first in a series of communiqués expressing its desired goals and objectives for Yemen and the rest of the world. The group sought foremost the removal of the members of the ruling Yemeni regime, to be tried under shari'a (Islamic) law and supplanted by a government that would rigorously adhere to the principles of Islamic law. In the communiqués, the army articulated its support for Osama bin Laden and called for operations against U.S. and other Western interests that would force those "infidels" to withdraw from the region. Since 1998, the Muhammad's Army has utilized both bombings and kidnappings to achieve their goals. As a result, they have been listed for sanctions as terrorists under United Nations Security Council Resolution #1333. In Arabic, the group is known as Jaysh Adan-Abiyan al-Islami. The army has also been called the Aden Islamic Army, the Army of Mohammed, the Jaish Adan al Islami, the Islamic Aden Army, and Jaysh Adan.

Yemen possesses geographic importance due to the strategic value of the Gulf of Aden. Osama bin Laden expressed the strategic value of the Gulf of Aden in his "Declarations of War." Within the gulf, the port functions as a refueling station and manages the westward flow of maritime traffic out of the Persian Gulf. All ships that travel from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal make use of Aden.


The roots of the Muhammed's Army has much to do with modern Yemeni history. The Republic of Yemen emerged in 1990 when Northern Yemen, known as the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), and the Southern People's Democratic Republic of Yemen decided to unite. Northern Yemen had functioned under Turkish rule until 1918, after which it was controlled by Imam Yahya, and later his son, Ahmad, until 1962. With the assistance of Egyptian President Nasser, the Imam was deposed and the revolutionary forces declared the Yemen Arab Republic in 1970.

To the south, Southern Yemen functioned under a British mandate until 1965 when two rival groups sought to conquer British rule. Two violent years of conflict resulted in the British pulling out of the region. By 1969, the Soviet Union assisted the radical wing of the Marxist movement in Yemen to assume control and declare the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). Through the 1970s, the government of the PDRY maintained a close alliance with the Soviet Union and China and provided safe haven for Palestinian extremists. The state was considered a haven for terrorists by the international community. Exiles from the PDRY received military training in Pakistan and fought as mujahideen (fighters) in the Afghan-Soviet war.

In 1972, the governments of the YAR and the PDRY acknowledged a desire to unify. However, only minimal steps forward were initially made toward that goal. To also slow the process, beginning in 1979, the PDRY initiated a sponsored insurgency against the YAR. Nevertheless, by 1989, after intercession by the Arab League, the regimes of the YAR and the PDRY agreed to unite under the terms originally agreed upon in 1981. On May 22, 1990, the Republic of Yemen (ROY) declared itself as a state and was quickly recognized by the international community. Acceptance of the agreement to unify was ratified by Yemenis by May 1991. The celebration of unification was quickly tempered. By 1994, a faction located in the southern region declared the south's withdrawal from the ROY. Fighting from the civil war occurred mainly in the southern region and was suppressed by July of that same year.



Khaled Abdennabi is the current leader of Muhammed's Army. In 2003, he was detained by Yemeni forces in connection to the attack on the medical convoy that wounded seven people. However, he was quickly pardoned and released.


Zein al-Abidi Abu Bakr al-Mehdar (Abu al-Hassan) was the founder of Muhammed's Army and a member of the salafi sect of the Sunni Muslim tradition. He was trained in guerilla warfare tactics in preparation for fighting the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. In 1994, he aided the Yemeni government in the suppression of the civil war caused by the socialists in South Yemen who had declared their intent to become independent from the Republic of Yemen. Al-Hassan was offered an appointment within the ruling party, but rejected it as he believed that the government was not being run under strict adherence to Islamic law. In October 1999, al-Hassan was convicted of his role in the December 1998 kidnapping of sixteen Western tourists, which led to the death of four tourists. He was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad on October 17, 1999.

Although the Muhammad's Army did not officially emerge until 1998, its formation is tangled with these aspects of Yemeni history. In 1998, Muhammad's Army issued its first communiqué stating its objectives. However the group existed long before then. The leadership of Muhammad's Army is made up of those individuals sent to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for religious and military training in preparation to battle the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. In 1984, between 5,000 and 7,000 Yemenis volunteered to fight against the USSR. These mujahideen were trained in guerilla warfare tactics and many adopted the fundamentalist salafi sect of Sunni Islam. The salafi sect calls for a puritan interpretation of Islam.

After returning to Yemen, these mujahideen formed Jamiat al-Jihad and formed an alliance with the opposition to the ruling party. During the 1994 civil war, these war veterans were used to suppress those residing in the south seeking to secede from the ROY and carried out over 150 assassinations of Socialist Party members. As a reward for their assistance in subduing the insurrection during the civil war, many of these religious fundamentalists were granted ranking positions in the Education and Judicial branches of the Yemeni government. Many of the mujahideen saw this as an attempt by the government to incorporate and have power over their religious movement. Individuals such as Zein al-Abidi Abu Bakr al-Mehdar, known as al-Hassan, were disheartened by the government's choice to not rigorously follow traditional Islamic law. Led by al-Hassan, like-minded salafi began to depart from Yemeni government circles in 1996.

The Yemeni government denied the existence of Muhammed's Army until the organization issued its first communiqué. The communiqué was delivered in response to the U.S. strikes on Osama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan, which were in retaliation for the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Muhammad's Army expressed its allegiance to Osama bin Laden and commended the embassy bombings. The communiqué called for the overthrow of the Yemeni government, which, they believed, should be tried under shari'a law. The new government in Yemen would then be created with leadership that austerely adhered to the fundamental interpretation of Islamic law. The group also called for armed opposition targeting U.S. and Western interests that would force the withdrawal of this influence on Yemen. In a subsequent communiqué, Muhammed's Army demanded the resignation of the ruling Yemeni government.

In December 1998, the group commenced its operations against Western influences with the kidnapping of sixteen British, American, and Australian tourists, the largest kidnapping incident in Yemen. The travelers were stopped at a roadblock in Mawdiyah. Operatives then took the hostages to a Muhammed's Army safe-house where the captors demanded the release of several comrades. Yemeni security forces discovered the location where the tourists were being held and surrounded the house. After an attempt at negotiations failed, a firefight commenced. The Muhammed's Army members used several of the hostages as human shields, resulting in the deaths of four tourists. Three of the Muhammed's Army kidnappers were also killed.

In October 1999, the leader of the operation and of Muhammed's Army, al-Hassan, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death by execution. Two other Muhammed's Army members were sentenced to death and one was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Ten other operatives were tried, yet acquitted. Al-Hassan was executed by firing squad on October 17, 1999, within days of his conviction even in spite of threats that the members of Muhammed's army would retaliate.

Muhammed's Army continued to operate after al-Hassan's death. On October 12, 2000, the U.S.S. Cole, a U.S. Naval vessel was refueling in the port of Aden. A dinghy filled with explosives smashed into the vessel, killing seventeen U.S. sailors and injuring thirty-nine. Although the U.S. and Australian intelligence services believe that the bombings were organized and carried out by al-Qaeda, many believe that the bombing were only arranged and funded by al-Qaeda. The operatives came from Muhammed's Army. In September 2001, the IAA was designated for sanctions as a terrorist organization under U.S. presidential Executive Order 13224. In that same month, the group was again designated for sanctions under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1333. Nevertheless, the group continued to function. On October 6, 2002, Muhammed's Army claimed responsibility for the bombing of a French refueling tank, the Limburg. The group asserted that its target had actually been a U.S. Navy vessel. On the third anniversary of al-Hassan's execution, the spiritual leader of Muhammed's Army, Abu-Hamzah al-Masri, declared that the group had joined the al-Qaeda organization.

The most recent activity by Muhammed's Army occurred on June 21, 2003, with an attack on a military medical convoy, which wounded seven people. During investigation of suspects for the attack, Yemeni security forces seized a cache of weapons, including cars packed with explosives, hand grenades, and rocket-propelled grenades.

Western intelligence services estimate that there are 100 core members in Muhammed's Army, who are both Yemeni and Saudi. These operatives are located in the United Kingdom, Sudan, Pakistan, Jordan, and Eritrea. The current leader is Khaled Abdennabi, or Khalid Abd al-Nabi al-Yazidi.


The philosophy of Muhammed's Army is rooted in the salafi sect of Sunni Islam and the belief that the Yemeni government should function under rigorous adherence to Islamic law. Many of the members of Muhammed's Army were influenced toward salafi while in Saudi Arabia and gaining guerilla warfare training to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The salafi philosophy is founded in the struggle to expel external influences from the Middle East.

The strategic importance of Aden is religious as well as geographic. Al-Hassan held a literal interpretation of the teaching of Muhammad, specifically that 12,000 holy warriors would emerge from Aden-Abyan to restore Islam. Osama bin Laden also voices this belief in his "Declarations of War," as he asserts the strategic importance of the Yemen.

As a result, Muhammed's Army has employed tactics such as bombings and kidnappings to force the expulsion of U.S. and Western influences on Yemen. The highest profile kidnapping in Yemen's history took place in December 1998, as sixteen tourists were kidnapped from a roadblock. After a failed attempt at negotiations, four of the tourists were killed in a shoot-out. In addition to kidnappings, Muhammed's Army has carried out bombings. Although the group claims responsibility for the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, blame is generally placed on the larger Islamic organization, al-Qaeda. In addition, Muhammed's Army claimed responsibility for the bombing of the French oil tanker, The Limburg, in 2003.


The Yemeni government denied the existence of Muhammed's Army until 1998 and the release of communiqués. The Yemeni government currently asserts that the group has been disbanded. Australian and U.S. intelligence agencies, however, estimate that there are approximately 100 core members of Muhammed's Army residing in the United Kingdom, Sudan, Pakistan, Jordan, and Eritrea. The attempt early on by the Yemeni government to incorporate the salafi into its ranks demonstrates the government's belief that those within Muhammed's Army are of little threat.


Mohammed's Army claims responsibility for the attack on the French tanker, The Limburg.
Three Yemenis connected to Muhammed's Army were convicted of bombings at the Port of Aden.
Mohammed's Army launches attack on military medical convoy, which injures seven people.
Yemeni security forces take on members of Muhammed's Army at a base in Harat. During arrests for the attack on the medical convoy, security forces find cache of weapons.
Car bomb attacks planned by Muhammed's Army for the U.S., British, and German embassies in capital of Sana'a are disrupted.

Before his execution, al-Hassan spoke of his participation with the hostage-taking in 1998 saying, "Dialogue between civilizations is useless. The only dialogue should be with bullets." As a result of comments like this and ties to the al-Qaeda network, the IAA has been renewed on both the U.S. and Australian terrorist watch-lists.

Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) a.k.a. Aden-Abyan Islamic Army (AAIA)


The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) emerged publicly in mid-1998 when the group released a series of communiqués that expressed support for Usama Bin Ladin, appealed for the overthrow of the Yemeni Government, and called for operations against U.S. and other Western interests in Yemen. IAA was first designated under EO 13224 in September 2001.


IAA has engaged in small-scale operations such as bombings, kidnappings, and small arms attacks to promote its goals. The group reportedly was behind an attack in June 2003 against a medical assistance convoy in the Abyan Governorate. Yemeni authorities responded with a raid on a suspected IAA facility, killing several individuals and capturing others, including Khalid al-Nabi al-Yazidi, the group's leader. Before that attack, the group had not conducted operations since the bombing of the British Embassy in Sanaa in October 2000. In 2001, Yemeni authorities found an IAA member and three associates responsible for that attack. In December 1998, the group kidnapped sixteen British, American, and Australian tourists near Mudiyah in southern Yemen. Although Yemeni officials previously have claimed that the group is operationally defunct, their recent attribution of the attack in 2003 against the medical convoy and reports that al-Yazidi was released from prison in mid-October 2003 suggest that the IAA, or at least elements of the group, have resumed activity. Speculation after the attack on the USS Cole pointed to the involvement of the IAA, and the group later claimed responsibility for the attack. The IAA has been affiliated with al-Qa'ida. IAA members are known to have trained and served in Afghanistan under the leadership of seasoned mujahedin.


Not known.


Operates in the southern governorates of Yemen—primarily Aden and Abyan.


Not known.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.


In 1998, Muhammed's Army emerged with clear objectives. It declared support of the international Islamic jihad (holy war) led by Osama bin Laden, and asserted the need for the removal and replacement of current Yemeni government to one based on strict adherence to Islamic law. The group also sought the expulsion of external influence on Yemen and the Middle East. These goals originated in the struggle of its leaders when they fought as mujahideen against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. During their military training, many adopted salafi, a fundamentalist sect of Sunni Islam and expressed the desire to create governments based on that religious fundamentalism. As a result, upon return from the Afghan war, some mujahideen were disillusioned by what they perceived to be a lack of adherence to Islamic law on the part of the Yemeni government. Consequently, Muhammed's Army began in 1998 to move toward achieving those goals. Since 1998, the group has employed the tactics of bombings and kidnappings. The most famous kidnapping occurred in December 1998 and resulted in the death of four hostages. Following the hostage crisis, Muhammed's Army leader, al-Hassan, was arrested and subsequently executed. Several years after his death, Muhammed's Army officially announced its alliance with al-Qaeda. The last known activity of the group occurred in 2003, but U.S. and Australian intelligence agencies approximate that the group still has 100 core members.



Karmon, Ely. "The Bombing of the U.S.S. Cole: An Analysis of the Principle Suspects." International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism. October 24, 2000.

Kerr, Simon. "Yemen Cracks Down on Militants." Middle East Journal. December 1, 1999.

McGregor, Andrew. "Strike First." The World Today. December 1, 2002.

Web sites

Center for Defense Information. "In the Spotlight: Islamic Army of Aden." 〈〉 (accessed October 16, 2005).

National Security Australia. "Islamic Army of Aden." 〈〉 (accessed October 16, 2005).

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Database. "Aden Abyan Islamic Army." 〈〉 (accessed October 16, 2005).

FAS Intelligence Resource Program. "Islamic Army of Aden." 〈〉 (accessed October 16, 2005).



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Muhammed's Army

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