Yemeni Cartel

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The Yemeni Cartel, locally known as al-Haris al-Rasūl (The Rasulid Guard) is a catch-all term referring to a number of domestic Yemenite organized crime groups based mostly in southwest Thousand Emirates. Traditionally involved in protection rackets, in last decades they had diversified their activities by trafficking drugs and people so as involved in money laundry.



The term Rasulid Guard originally referred to praetorian guards during the Rasulid dynasty which ruled the southwest Yemens between 1229 and 1454, after the Ayyubids left their southern provinces of the Arabian Peninsula.

Following the end of the Rasulid dynasty, in 1454, the Rasulid Guard was disbanded and persecuted by the new dynasty, the Tahirides, afraid they could stage a rebellion. The Guards developed then into groups of bodyguards and mercenaries at the service of local rulers. Despite the Rasulid Guard as a unified institution no longer existed these groups always referred to themselves in this way.

These groups have a history which is clouded in self-created legend, but in general is believed that their origins date from the 15th and 16th centuries, a period of political instability in the Yemens when the region was taken by successive different dynasties and suffered from first European attacks causing a continuous state of warfare. Such instability eroded civil authority and the countryside was filled with bandits and thieves. According to legend a few number of former members of the original Rasulid Guard decided to take the law in their own hands, and by asking only a small fee from the grateful peasants in exchange for their protection. Thus the Rasulid Guard, as it is locally known nowadays, was born.

Whilst they remained a loose confederation of rural groups for the next centuries some of them began to expand to the cities during ottoman rule. During this period some of the groups acted violently against the occupying Ottoman authorities and now are often regarded as early nationalist revolutionaries. With the fading of the Ottoman rule the Rasulid Guard flourished acting as bodyguards and law enforcers of the emirs, a service which still continue nowadays although on a smaller scale. During the 19th century many of the emirs signed treaties of protection with England. Both protected emirs and English colonial authorities considering the Rasulid Guard as convenient for maintaining law and order made blind eye to their actions contributing for a further flourishing and expansion.

The Yemens War

Khat chewing as a long history as a social custom dating back of thousands of years among the people of the southwest Yemens and the Horn of Africa. Khat is being described as both Yemenites’ paradise or Yemenites’ hell. It’s known in southwest Yemens about a quarter of families’ budget is spent in acquiring this drug.

Pan-Arabist rebels fought a war against the emirs and their English protectors between 1959 and 1976, the so-called Yemens War. These rebels organized in a self proclaimed state, the Yemenite United Republic, which was composed by several enclaves. Due the need of their funding, authorities of the YUR took advantage of the growing interest on drugs in Europe and North America and started producing khat industrially and exporting it through the few foreign countries which recognized the YUR after contacts with foreign criminal organizations were made.

The Rasulid Guard found in khat an opportunity of business. Yemenite farmers who were under their protection could hardly pay the small fee for protection due to widespread poverty which was increased by the war. In both YUR so as in some of the emirates the Rasulid Guard gave the option to farmers to pay their fee for protection in khat instead of money. In a no time the production of khat boomed causing the birth of narco-economy in the southwest Yemens and increasing contacts with outside countries. Such was the biggest change in the Rasulid Guard in centuries.

In late 1970’s, after the war was over, those groups which had turned their activities into drug production and dealing were much richer and more powerful than the few which didn’t. These last ones were absorbed by the larger ones after a truly war between them for controlling territory. Later the surviving groups gathered in a loose confederation for controlling the khat prices and business into a cartel, thus the name Yemeni Cartel.


In present-day the Yemeni Cartel provides two main services: they grow and supply drugs both locally so as internationally, and they provide protection where the official authorities are incapable. Whilst the Yemeni Cartel is not optional it is genuinely a protection scheme in most cases and the Yemeni Cartel’s methods are known to be rather violent for those who either refuse their protection or those who break it.

In more recent years the Yemeni Cartel considered their costumers had to be better fidelised and as khat is not addicting enough they started to introduce opium production in the Yemens. Production of khat and opium at an industrial level in the southwest Thousand Emirates consumes much of the local water and agricultural resources as it’s much more profitable than production of grain and many farmers don’t have money to pay protection. Studies estimated that irrigating khat fields consumes as much as 40% of water supplies in some of the emirates causing a serious problem of lack of water.

Also during the 1980’s with the recovering of the Middle East economy (caused by the increase of oil prices during the Persia-Iraaq War) the Yemeni Cartel started to have a major role in illegal migration from the poorest emirates in the Thousand Emirates to richer places such as the Gulf Leopards, Saudi Arabia or Lebanon. Lebanon is believed to be the place where the Yemeni Cartel turns their illegal money into legal one through schemes of money laundry. It is also believed that the death of appointed Lebanese prime minister Bashir Butrus al-Jumayyil, in 1982, is connected to a war for controlling Lebanese underworld between the Yemeni Cartel and the local al-Zein Clan.

Following waves of emigration from the poorest emirates the Yemeni Cartel expanded its activities abroad. It provides protection among migrant Yemenite communities being often reported in the Gulf Leopards, Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Beside illegal emigration of workers the Yemens Cartel also involved in other forms of human trafficking, notably trafficking children to the south bank of the Persian Gulf emirates for using as jockeys in camel racing so as to use them for forced begging in the streets.

Compared to other major crime syndicates, such as the Pègre, the Sicilian mafia, the Indian Thugs, the yamatoan Yacuza or the corean K’añbai, the Yemeni Cartel are small-scale in the international crime world. Even so it’s the largest non-political criminal organization of the Middle East.

Structure and composition

The Yemeni Cartel is not a monolithic organization, but rather a loose confederation of some dozens of groups known as clans, which despite such name members aren’t generally related by blood. Each of which claims sovereignty over a territory, usually a town or village in the countryside or part of a city in larger places. Often smaller clans have to pay protection to larger ones.

Clan hierarchy and membership

A typical clan is led by a leader called fariq awwal (general), who is aided by a fariq (lieutenant-general) and supervised by one or more liwa’ (major general) acting as advisors. Under this command are groups (al-jaīsh, Arabic for army) of five to fifteen men, the jundi (soldiers), led directly by a naqib (captain).

The actual structure of any given clan can vary. Some clans, especially in rural areas, are so small that they don’t have all these ranks. Due to small size of most rural clans their fariq awwal know personally all members.

Membership in the Yemeni Cartel is only open to Yemenite men and potential members must prove their origins of Yemenite blood.

Relationship with Police

Since the 1970’s, authorities in some of the Thousand Emirates came more and more into conflict with the Yemeni Cartel as it expanded its criminal activities. Although their activity is often tolerated in the countryside, where authorities often have difficulties in policing, urban clans have recently come under growing pressure to end their protection operations, especially in cities such as Aden where there are many foreign interests. This has occasionally broken out into firefights.

Yemeni Cartel’s activities abroad aren’t tolerated, especially in Saudi Arabia where possession and trafficking of drugs is enough for heavy penalties including death penalty.