When the British engineer Douglas Robert Semple was taken hostage by al-Qaida in Yemen’s eastern province of Hadramawt 18 months ago, the country was inching slowly towards disaster.
A political transition that saw the removal of Yemen’s longtime strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh after Arab spring-style protests was floundering. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was growing in power despite unrelenting American drone strikes, and the central government of president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi was growing weak.
Months later, Islamic State would declare the creation of its self-proclaimed caliphate, placing it in direct competition with al-Qaida.
By the end of the year, the Houthis – Shia rebels from the north who are allied with Iran – launched a surprise military campaign that saw them take control of the capital Sana’a, working in tandem with Saleh, who appeared to be plotting a return to power.