The Land of Black Flags

“Al Qaeda, they don’t have a country”, my Yemeni security guard said as we passed through the thirteenth and final military checkpoint along a rugged, potholed road leading to the town of Jaar (now Waqar), al Qaeda’s newest stronghold in southern Yemen. “When they see places quiet from the government — a lazy government — they go”.

Under the moniker Ansar al-Sharia, or Partisans of Islamic Law, al Qaeda handily seized Jaar in March 2011. They quickly renamed the peaceful hamlet Waqar — it means “respect” or “majesty,” according to one of its new inhabitants — and instituted an Islamic government. The conquest of the town — which its new rulers insisted on calling Waqar throughout my visit — was just the latest conquest in a series of gains for Ansar al-Sharia. The group has exploited the turmoil in Yemen over the past year to seize control of much of the southern Yemen’s Abyan province.
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