Since the seizure of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a by Houthi rebels in late September, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has stepped up its terrorist attacks throughout the country, claiming credit for a total of 149 attacks in 14 provinces. These attacks have targeted AQAP’s traditional enemy, the Yemeni government and military, as well as the terrorist group’s new target, the Houthi rebels. At the same time, AQAP has also managed to carry out several attacks against American interests, including the US Embassy in Sana’a and the US Ambassador to Yemen.
A few days after the Houthi sweep of Sana’a on Sept. 21, AQAP disseminated a statement portraying the Houthis as Shiite heretics threatening Sunni interests in Yemen, and called on all Sunnis to take up arms against the rebels. AQAP has played the role of the protector of Yemen’s Sunnis and has waged a relentless campaign against the Houthis, allegedly alongside some Sunni tribesmen.
Although fighting between the Houthis and AQAP has spread throughout much of northern and central Yemen, Baydah province has been a focal point of such battles. Clashes around the provincial capital of Radaa broke out on Oct. 15, when the Houthis attempted to advance on the city. Since then, AQAP has claimed 47 attacks in Baydah, mostly in the city of Radaa and its outskirts.
AQAP has also claimed a total of 27 attacks in Sana’a, 20 of which targeted Houthi positions in the city. Most notably, AQAP carried out a suicide attack on Oct. 9 at Tahrir Square in the capital against Houthi supporters who were preparing for a demonstration, allegedly killing more than 50 Houthis. AQAP also attacked state institutions in the province, shelling Sana’a airport with mortars on Nov. 5 in retaliation for US drone strikes in Yemen.
Even while AQAP maintains its campaign against the Houthi rebels, the group’s attacks against Yemeni government and military targets have continued, focused mostly on the eastern and southern parts of the country. AQAP has claimed credit for 21 attacks against the Yemeni military in Hadramout, primarily on the road linking the cities of Tarim with al Qatn in Wadi Hadramout. Eleven more such attacks were carried out in neighboring Shabwa province, including a rocket strike on the Yemen LNG company in Belhaf on Dec. 18.
While fighting both the Yemeni state and the ascendant Houthi rebels, AQAP has also managed to carry out three attacks against US interests in Yemen. On Sept. 27, less than a week following the Houthi seizure of Sana’a, AQAP claimed to have launched a “Lu-type” rocket at the US Embassy in Sana’a, allegedly wounding some guards on the scene. Exactly two months later, on Nov. 27, AQAP claimed yet another attack on the embassy, this time detonating two improvised explosive devices (IEDs). A third IED attack, which targeted US Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller as he left a meeting at the residence of Yemeni president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, failed when the explosives planted outside Hadi’s residence were allegedly discovered minutes before Tueller left the meeting.
American interests in Yemen were not the only international targets of AQAP’s attacks. On Dec. 3, AQAP claimed credit for a vehicle-borne explosive device (VBIED) attack at the residence of the Iranian ambassador to Yemen in the Hadda district of Sana’a. AQAP indicated that the attack came as a response to Iranian support for the Houthis.
List of attacks by province since Sept. 21:
al Dale’: 1
The Houthi rebel crisis in Yemen has breathed new life into al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, providing AQAP with a wide power vacuum in which to operate. The fact that AQAP continues to challenge the Yemeni state, the Houthi rebels, and the US in numerous provinces suggests that the group has been the primary beneficiary of the Houthi rebellion that has rocked the country for nearly three months.