National Geographic : 2012 Sep
• BY JOSHUA HAMMER PHOTOGRAPHS BY STEPHANIE SINCLAIR e school had been converted into a center for displaced people---some 530 men, women, and children on three oors overlooking a litter- lled dirt courtyard. Undeterred by the squalor and fetid heat, young boys kicked soccer balls in the corridors. Dozens of new arrivals waited to be registered by a volunteer tapping their names into a dusty laptop. Um Mohammed was too frightened to divulge her real name but not too frightened to speak her mind. She showed me a cell phone video she had made three weeks earlier, this past January, during a trip home to Zinjibar to retrieve some belongings. It showed a bearded man hanging from a lamppost, his hands nailed to a wooden crossbeam. Speaking in a shrill voice mu ed by the black cloth in front of her face, she said that the man, an al Qaeda operative, had been ac- cused of spying for the Yemeni government. "He hung there for three days. It was a warning to the people: Every traitor should be killed like this." Other countries in the Middle East su ered more violence than Yemen during the Arab Spring---Muammar Qadda 's Libya, Bashar al Assad's Syria---but this country of 24 million has emerged from its popular revolution in a deeply precarious condition. In the far north, al Houthis, a Shiite-based political movement, waged a six-year insurrection against the Yemeni government and now controls a large swath of territory---though its leaders have signaled a de- sire to participate in a national dialogue. In the far south, Aden and its surrounding districts are under siege by al Hirak, a separatist movement that wants independence for the region. And east of Aden, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is mounting a campaign of insurgency and terror. It was formed in 2009 through a merger of Yemeni and Saudi branches of al Qaeda and gained force during the popular uprising that convulsed Yemen between January and November 2011. A er mass protests calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign, the United States and Persian Gulf nations pressed the weakened leader to step down. With the government in tatters and the army divided and demoralized, al Qaeda began recruiting new followers with promises of glory ghting the U.S.-backed army. In May 2011 al Qaeda militants drove government forces out of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan Province, a 150-mile-long sliver of mountain redoubts and strategic coastline along the Arabian Sea. More than 130,000 refugees from Abyan have poured into Aden during the past year. AQAP extremists now control parts of three provinces The man was cruci ed, Um Mohammed said, her black eyes peering out through the slit in her black niqab. She was a widow in her 30s with two small children. Fleeing danger and chaos, she found herself this morning in the faculty room of an elementary school in the Crater neighborhood of Aden, a port city in south Yemen. Her children---Ibrahim, ten, and Fatima, seven---both sat cross-legged on wooden chairs beside their mother and shyly watched me.