Center for Strategic Communication

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula freed several of its operatives from the central prison in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in a complex assault today that involved suicide bombers and an assault team. Nineteen AQAP operatives were among the 29 prisoners who were freed during the attack.

The attack began as a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives outside the prison, Yemeni security officials told The Associated Press. AQAP fighters then dismounted from two other cars and broke off into two units. One AQAP unit clashed with security guards outside the prison; the unit was backed by fighters who deployed on nearby rooftops and opened fire on the Yemeni guards. Meanwhile the second unit of fighters fanned out into the prison and battled the guards inside.

At least seven Yemeni soldiers were killed and two more were wounded during the fighting, according to the Yemen News Agency.

“Some prisoners,” including al Qaeda operatives, “were able to escape from the prison during the attack.”

In the course of the assault 29 prisoners escaped, including 19 who “were convicted of terrorism-related charges,” according to Mohammed Albasha, Yemen’s spokesman in Washington. Albasha published information on his Twitter account.

Among those freed, according to Albasha, are A’hed Aamer and Yaha Haydarah, both of whom are “linked to killing and bombing plots in Abyan” and were “sentenced to seven years in prison”; Mansour Saleh Salem and Mubarak al Shabwani, both of whom “killed three security officials and soldiers, seized an army truck” and were “sentenced to death row”; and Abdulrahman al Sharabi, who “plotted to assassinate President Hadi” and “was sentenced to 10 years in prison.”

AQAP has made good on a vow made by its emir, Nasir al Wuhaysi, who also serves as al Qaeda’s general manager. In a statement released in August 2013, Wuhayshi praised jihadists currently held in prisons, and said the group would make an effort to free them.

“We ask Allah to make us a cause in unlocking your imprisonment and relieving your sorrows,” Wuhaysi said, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

Other allied groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, have focused significant efforts on assaulting prisons. Both groups have freed hundreds of prisoners in major attacks over the past several years. [See LWJ reports, Pakistani Taliban assault prison, free hundreds of inmates, Pakistani Taliban assault prison, free nearly 400 inmates, and Al Qaeda assaults Iraqi jails, frees hundreds of prisoners.]

AQAP continues to target security installations

Today’s complex assault by AQAP is the latest against major security installations over the past several months. On Jan. 16, AQAP fighters killed 10 soldiers during simultaneous attacks against three military outposts in the town of Rada’a in Baydah province. At least one military camp was overrun and three armored personnel carriers were taken during the attack.

Two months ago, AQAP launched a successful suicide assault in Sana’a. On Dec. 5, 2013, a large suicide team of AQAP fighters penetrated security at the Ministry of Defense in the capital of Sana’a. The suicide assault resulted in the deaths of 52 people, including foreign doctors and nurses, and 11 AQAP fighters. AQAP claimed that the assault targeted the US-run “operation rooms” for the drone program in Yemen.

Other recent high-profile suicide assaults include: the Sept. 20 , 2013 suicide assaults against three military bases in Shabwa province; a raid on military headquarters in Mukallah in Hadramout on Sept. 30, 2013 (the base was held by the AQAP fighters for days before the military retook control); the Oct. 18, 2013 suicide assault on a military training center in Abyan; and the Dec. 31, 2013 complex suicide assault against a Security Department headquarters in the port city of Aden.

The suicide assault, or coordinated attack using multiple suicide bombers and an assault team, is a tactic used by al Qaeda and its allies, including the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Boko Haram. Suicide assault are commonly executed in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Nigeria.

US intelligence officials believe that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a direct threat to the homeland. The terror group has planned multiple attacks against targets in the US. The US continues to launch drone strikes against AQAP; three such attacks have taken place in Yemen so far this year.