Yemen Thwarts Al Qaeda Attack
Well-coordinated anti-terrorist operations and intelligence cooperation in Yemen have started to yield results.
On 2nd June 2016, General Faraj Salmin, commander of Yemen’s Second Military Zone in the east of Yemen, made public the information that Yemeni authorities had thwarted a massive terrorist attack aimed at the local administrative headquarters in Mukalla. According to General Salmin, a car loaded with 15 high-explosive bombs had been detected in time before an individual linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, could detonate it.
General Salmin explained that the successful operation was a joint operation: “We received intelligence about Al Qaeda’s plans to launch a major terrorist attack in Al Mukalla aimed at destabilising the city and creating panic among residents. With the help of intelligence, we learnt of a plan to target the local administrative headquarters in Al Mukalla city in order to liquidate the staff, destroy the infrastructure and paralyze the local government authorities. Following an extensive search, the car, loaded with a huge quantity of explosives, was found.”
The purpose of the attack would have been to give a blow to a prominent symbol of the Yemeni state, the city of Mukalla on the Gulf of Aden, to give a signal that the recent expulsion of AQAP from Mukalla would be followed by chaos and instability, and to threaten the people with reprisals for cooperating with the Yemeni and Coalition forces.
Yemeni forces, assisted by the Coalition, conducted extensive search operations throughout Mukalla to identify Al Qaeda elements whose existence was already known in the area as a result of efficient intelligence exchanges. During these searches, they arrested a computer expert known as Abu Hafs Al Shahri, who is a key figure in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and that is why his arrest was very useful for the authorities to learn information about the terrorist plans to destabilize the region.
In mid-May, General Salmin had announced the arrest of 250 Al Qaeda leaders, also as a result of efficient intelligence exchanges.
Mukalla is the 5th largest city in Yemen, with an estimated population of 500,000 inhabitants, and of strategic major importance as it is a port on the Gulf of Aden, and it has one airport.
The Saudi-led coalition’s campaign in Mukalla marks a change in strategy. Since early 2015, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had taken advantage of the coalition’s focus on Shiite Houthi rebels and grabbed territory along Yemen’s southern coast. At the beginning, the Arab Coalition targeted Al Qaeda in Yemen and Mukalla was the capital city for this group where their economic strength was obvious. In April 2016, the Coalition managed to defeat Al Qaeda in the city of Mukalla and the army took control of the city. However, the Yemenis say that Al Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula are still controlling the city of Mukalla.
The emergence of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the most striking unexpected effect of the coalition’s military intervention in Yemen. The campaign, backed by the US, helped Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to become stronger since its inception 20 years ago. One explanation may be the drone war. The US is said to have initiated in 2002 the drone war against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that has been useful but also harmful for civilians because, due to lots of civilian casualties, it might have caused many Yemenis, who otherwise have remained neutral, to take arms and side with a certain faction. Thus, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula could regain ground.
The United Arab Emirates entered the coalition to re-establish peace and order in the Arab Peninsula. As a country with strong economic interests around the world, a peaceful vision and population partly originating in Yemeni tribes, the UAE wants peace and economic development in Yemen. Special teams from the UAE Armed Forces, working as part of the Coalition, are providing operational assistance to the Yemeni forces in cleansing the city of members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and also providing intelligence for the operations. The expertise of the UAE forces in counter-terrorism operations has helped to set free the city of Mukalla from Al Qaeda and to thwart their plans to establish an Islamic emirate in the region.
During the capture of Abu Hafs, the IT expert of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who was caught in a safe-house, CDs were found that contained plans to destabilise and terrorise southern Yemen. Abu Hafs has been identified as a key operational element whose role was to use his technical expertise in executing the plans in Yemen and in using social media for propaganda.
The search operations in Mukalla have also identified large quantities of lethal weapons, suggesting that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula still can launch attacks against the civilian population of the city.
It is very difficult for an outsider to clearly understand who’s who in Yemen. The Yemenis explain that “There is no longer a genuine official government in Yemen or, if there is one, it does not control the entire country, and there are two armies, each siding with someone else… For instance Mukalla is controlled by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula…There are many groups of interests, but mainly we have two sides: one side involving the KSA, the UAE, Qatar, USA, UK, the Coalition, and other side involving Iran, the Houthis and the former president, backed by Russia and China, who control the capital city, the National Bank, and all the officials…”
Private conversations with the Yemenis reveal that “if KSA and Iran do not negotiate, Yemen will be destroyed entirely! The problem is that KSA does not have well-trained staff to negotiate, they do not have skills, while Iran has very valuable and educated people. Iran knows better its interests. Take for instance the following example: Iran and the UAE have had a conflict for many years, for the three islands, but this does not prevent Iran from keeping money in banks in Dubai if they knows it’s good for them…”
In April, peace talks mediated by the UN had started in Kuwait between the Houthis and President Abed Hadi but they soon were thwarted due to the intransigence on both sides. The UN Resolution 2216 demands that the Houthis withdraw their forces from all areas, including Sanaa, hand over the state institutions to the legitimate government and release their political prisoners.
If the peace does not come soon, Yemen, already facing a harsh food crisis, lack of electricity and other shortages, will be destroyed and the Yemenis do not deserve this. They are described by other Arabs as “although poor, among the most hospitable and the most honest of all Arabs.”