Despite a Nov. 7 announcement that a new inclusive Yemeni cabinet was formed in an effort to defuse the ongoing political stalemate in the country, there has been no indication of a deescalation of terrorist activity by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The Houthi rebels, Shiite Zaydi Muslims who hail from Yemen’s far north, swung down from their stronghold in Sa’ada province to take Amran in July and overrun the Yemeni capital in late September. Since then, AQAP has capitalized on the crisis by declaring an open war on the Shiite rebels and has escalated its terrorist attacks in conjunction with the rebels’ southward military advance.
The newly formed Yemeni cabinet, which includes Houthi representatives, marks the latest attempt to solve the crisis currently facing Yemen and to create a functioning government that can restore a semblance of peace to the country. However, over the weekend, AQAP carried out a series of high-profile attacks in central and eastern Yemen, including one targeting US ambassador Matthew H. Tueller, indicating that a political solution to the Houthi crisis will not readily translate into a deescalation of clashes between the Shiite rebels and AQAP.
Attacks in Ibb, Bayda, and Hadramout
AQAP claimed that at least 25 Houthis were killed on Nov. 7 in clashes that began the previous morning at 10:00 a.m. in Ibb province. A statement released by the terrorist organization indicated that the fighting began when about 500 Houthi fighters headed towards the Najd al Adan region in Ibb province. AQAP fighters reportedly opened fire on the Houthis while they were in the process of cordoning off a main road in the area, resulting in the deaths of 25 fighters. AQAP claimed that none of its operatives were hurt in the exchange.
In Bayda province, the site of prolonged Houthi-AQAP clashes for nearly a month, AQAP carried out a coordinated suicide attack that claimed the lives of “tens” of Houthis. The initial attack, carried out by Mu’adh al Khawlani via a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED), targeted a health center in the Manasseh area of Radaa city at 1:00 a.m. on Nov. 8 as about 70 Houthis gathered there.
In conjunction with the suicide attack at the health center, AQAP carried out a triple suicide attack at a local school (also in Manasseh) used as a gathering place and weapons warehouse by the Houthis. According to the statement released the same day, four AQAP fighters stormed the school and immediately clashed with the Houthis on site. The first AQAP attacker launched a missile at a Houthi checkpoint in front of the school and subsequently detonated his suicide belt amid a Houthi crowd, killing around 25 people immediately. Two other suicide bombers also detonated their explosives shortly after the first, while the fourth AQAP attacker managed to emerge unscathed from the clashes at the school that lasted for about 12 hours.
In eastern Hadramout province, AQAP claimed that it killed several Yemeni soldiers as they were driving a military vehicle along the Shibam – Seyoun road on Nov. 8. An AQAP statement said that an improvised explosive device (IED) completely destroyed the vehicle, killing six soldiers and wounding the others who were on board.
Attacks targeting US ambassador, former Yemeni president
On Nov. 8, AQAP announced that two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that the group had planted in front of the residence of Yemeni president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Sana’a were uncovered before they were detonated. The statement clarified that AQAP fighters had intended to detonate the IEDs as US ambassador Matthew H. Tueller left Hadi’s residence. Tueller met with President Hadi on Nov. 8 in his Sana’a residence for over an hour, and the AQAP statement claimed that the explosives were found just minutes before the ambassador exited the Yemeni president’s house.
On Nov. 9, AQAP released a statement claiming credit for an explosion that took place on Nov. 6 in front of the residence of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The statement indicated that jihadists planted two IEDs in front of the western entrance to Saleh’s residence. The IEDs were detonated on Nov. 6 at around 9:00 p.m., and the AQAP release did not provide any additional details about this attack.
AQAP also claimed credit for an attack in Sana’a on Nov. 9 targeting Houthi military positions in the city. AQAP fighters reportedly opened fire on a group of Houthi soldiers driving a military truck along Zayed Street in Sana’a at around 10:10 p.m. on Nov. 9. The AQAP statement released the same the day indicated that all seven Houthis on board were killed as a result of the attack.
These latest attacks in Sana’a, particularly those targeting the US ambassador and the former Yemeni president, are telling signs of AQAP’s growing operational capabilities throughout Yemen. AQAP has been capitalizing on the current political and military unrest in the country to the point that it has now set its sights on high-level political targets, a marked departure from its assassination campaign targeting local and low-level intelligence and military personnel.