Clashes between fighters from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Shiite Houthi rebels continued over the past several days as the two groups attempted to expand their respective advances throughout the country. After the Houthis took Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, in late September, AQAP declared an open war against the rebels and increased its operations against both the Yemeni military and the Houthis, especially in the central portion of the country.
AQAP has claimed credit for 16 attacks that took place in six Yemeni provinces between Oct. 16 – Oct. 20. Many of these attacks centered around the city of Radaa in Bayda province, where fighting between AQAP and the Houthis began in earnest on Oct. 15, when the Shiite rebels initiated an eastward offensive.
Fighting in Bayda
AQAP claimed credit for a suicide attack on Oct. 16 that targeted a Houthi gathering in the Qaa’ Fayd region located between the city of Radaa and Dhamar province to the west. The AQAP statement released the following day stated that the operation was carried out with a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED), or car bomb, and that “tens” of Houthis were killed and injured as a result.
A few days later, AQAP released another statement regarding fighting around the city of Radaa, specifically detailing clashes that took place in the Malah region on the outskirts of the city. The statement claimed that on Oct. 16, AQAP sent several groups of fighters to foil the Houthis’ advance on the city and noted that one group of jihadists was attacked by a Houthi ambush prior to the eruption of a fierce battle. AQAP then sent reinforcements to aid its besieged fighters in Malah, and the strengthened jihadist force compelled the rebels to withdraw from the Qaa’ Fayd region.
AQAP claimed that many Houthis were killed or wounded, three were taken captive, and many light and heavy weapons were looted by its fighters. Additionally, the statement clarifies that the suicide attack reported in an earlier AQAP statement on clashes in the Qaa’ Fayd region (see above) occurred following the Houthis’ withdrawal from the area.
Two days after the fighting in the Malah region, AQAP launched a coordinated attack in Radaa targeting Houthi positions in the city. An AQAP statement claimed that on the morning of Oct 18, two groups of its fighters simultaneously attacked a Houthi checkpoint in the city as well as a gathering of rebels at a local school. An AQAP “correspondent” in the field is quoted in the statement saying, “the two attacks resulted in the deaths and injury of the Houthis that we cannot accurately count,” and added that skirmishes were still ongoing south of Radaa.
AQAP also took credit for an improvised explosive device (IED) attack against a Houthi military vehicle in Bayda on Oct. 18. In a statement released a few days later, AQAP claimed that its fighters detonated an IED at 11:00 a.m. as the Houthi vehicle was passing by the al Nisi mountain in Radaa, resulting in its complete destruction and the deaths of all who were on board.
The following day, AQAP released two brief statements claiming credit for attacks that took place on Oct. 19 in Radaa. The first of the two attacks took place at dawn in the al Arsh region of Radaa; the jihadist group claimed that an unspecified number of rebels were killed. In the second statement, AQAP announced that one of its snipers killed a Houthi fighter in the city.
Fighting in Bayda province further intensified between Oct. 19-20, and on Oct. 20 AQAP released a statement heralding an “advance” in their offensive against the Houthis. The jihadist group claimed that its fighters had passed the provincial borders of Bayda and arrived in Dhamar province. AQAP also claimed that tens of Houthis had been killed and injured in the ongoing battles in the al Arsh region of Bayda.
Arabic media sources reported that battles along the border regions between Bayda and Dhamar provinces over the past 24 hours have left around 60 dead, believed to be mostly Houthi casualties.
Today, AQAP took credit for a suicide attack near the residence of a “Houthi leader” in Radaa, Abdallah Idris, while rebels were meeting inside. In fact, Idris is the chief local official of the General People’s Congress, the party of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Arabic press reports suggested that tribal representatives and Houthi fighters were meeting at Idris’ house at the time of the explosion. According to local sources and eye witnesses, 15 people were killed in the bombing, most of whom were Houthis, and 12 others were wounded.
A subsequent AQAP statement claimed that the afternoon attack was carried out by Abu Aisha al Sana’ani using a car bomb and that “tens” of Houthis had been killed.
AQAP retakes al Adayn
During the night of Oct. 15, AQAP fighters carried out coordinated attacks on security, military, and governmental centers in al Adayn in southwestern Ibb province and managed to seize control of the city. After holding the city for about 9 hours, the fighters withdrew on the morning of Oct. 16. The day-long offensive came as a response to the Houthis’ seizure of the entire province earlier that day.
Today, AQAP renewed its offensive in al Adayn, launching a massive attack on security locations in the city and consolidating their power over the area once again. Later in the day, AQAP released a statement claiming that the remnants of the Houthi fighters had fled the city following a joint operation carried out by AQAP and Sunni tribes in the area.
AQAP said that its fighters managed to infiltrate al Adayn at dawn, paving the way for the assault to retake the city. According to the statement, the attack began at around 10:00 a.m. when groups of jihadists began attacking locations both inside and outside the city. The homes of Houthi leaders were bombed in the assault, including the residence of Zakaria al Musawa, a military officer aligned with the Shiite rebels.
The AQAP statement emphasized the participation of local Sunni tribes who “gathered with their weapons on board twenty cars” and took part in seizing control of the city. An hour into the attack on al Adayn, AQAP fighters and Sunni tribesman coalesced at a central city square and released three soldiers who were jailed during the last AQAP offensive to take the city, on Oct. 15. The soldiers were released after they renounced their service of the Yemeni military and vowed to not return and fight in its ranks. During this gathering, “the tribesman emphasized…their firm position of uniting their ranks and their coalition with Ansar al Sharia in fighting the rafidi [Shiite] Houthis.”
AQAP also claimed credit for an attack elsewhere in Ibb province on Oct. 20. At around 6:30 PM, jihadists stormed the Mashwara military checkpoint in Ibb city, described in an AQAP statement as a “joint Houthi-military military checkpoint,” leading to the deaths of all the soldiers at the checkpoint along with two AQAP fighters.
Other AQAP attacks between Oct. 16 – Oct. 20
AQAP claimed credit for two attacks on Oct. 16 targeting Yemeni military personnel in Abyan and Shabwa, two southern provinces where the jihadist group has traditionally maintained a strong presence. At 10:00 a.m., AQAP fighters detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) at the al Houta – Azzan junction, wounding several soldiers according to an AQAP statement. Later in the afternoon, jihadists shot and killed two soldiers of the 111th Brigade in the Ahwar region of Abyan province.
On Oct. 17, AQAP targeted a military convoy in Hadramout heading towards the city of Qatn. At around 10:00am, fighters detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) as the convoy passed by, killing and injuring an unspecified number of Yemeni soldiers.
Two more attacks claimed by AQAP took place on Oct. 19, in Sana’a and the northern Houthi stronghold of Amran. In Sana’a, AQAP fighters lobbed a grenade at a Houthi gatehring in the Bani Houth area of the Yemeni capital. That evening, jihadists attacked a “Houthi headquarters” in the Rayda area of Amran province with a 17 kilogram IED. The subsequent AQAP statement claimed that serious material damage was caused to the headquarters and that no reports of casualties have surfaced.