Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based franchise of the terror network, banned sale of the popular drug qat on Thursday.
The prohibition covered the eastern Yemeni port city of Mukalla, which is under AQAP control. AQAP has made gains amid the chaos in Yemen since the advance of rival Shiite rebels, called Houthis, in the country’s west, and the ensuing bombing campaign led by Saudi Arabia. (RELATED: Saudis Ignore US, Ignore Iran, Continue Pulverizing Yemen)
In photos released online this week, officials of al-Qaida’s local “security directorate” were seen burning bales of the narcotic plant in the street. The Associated Press reports they were also seen distributing leaflets, saying those who consume qat “will be held fully responsible under Shariah law.”
According to Reuters, al-Qaida’s slapdash law enforcement agency is a collaboration with local officials who were in the city before the terrorists arrived. The local Council of Islamic Scholars, which was previously responsible for making legal decisions, has reportedly included the jihadi franchise “into local administration in order to avoid infighting.” (RELATED: How ISIS And Al-Qaida Benefit From Local Nutjobs)
Qat, a leafy green plant which when chewed produces stimulant effects like those of amphetamines or strong coffee, is central to Yemeni culture. Men in the country traditionally chew it every afternoon, going directly from lunchtime to several hours of qat-fueled idle socialization. They also spend a significant part of their income on the drug.
Its cultivation is estimated to use somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of the water in Yemen, one of the world’s most water-scarce countries. A 2014 article in the Yemen Times reported that despite the ongoing pressure on the country’s water supply, Yemenis have continued to farm qat at higher and higher rates.
But eradicating the narcotic has proven difficult for decades of Yemeni governments. As supply and demand for qat both remain steady and high, many small-scale farmers depend on it for their livelihoods, often prioritizing qat over basic food crops.
AQAP, which includes much of the original network’s core leadership, has competed with the Islamic State for legitimacy in the marketplace of international jihad. It claimed responsibility for January’s attacks on the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, thereby broadening its reputation beyond the Arabian Peninsula.
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