Home inContext Al-Qaeda’s Grip on Yemen

Al-Qaeda’s Grip on Yemen

Zachary Fisher

A suicide bomber killed at least 101 people and wounded over 200 in an attack during a military parade rehearsal in Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa on Monday. The attacker, a soldier in uniform, was taking part in a drill near Yemen’s Presidential Palace when he detonated a bomb hidden underneath his clothes. The explosion erupted moments before Yemen’s Defense Minister Nasser Ahmed and the Army Chief-of-Staff Ahmed al-Ashwal were expected to address the troops, leading officials to believe that the high-ranking individuals were his intended targets. The defense minister and army chief-of-staff were not harmed.

As the attack bore all the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda attack, it comes as no surprise that the notorious terrorist organization is deemed responsible. The militant group Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), which is affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), told Reuters that it was behind the attack. According to the group’s spokesman, the bombing was in response to security forces’ “crimes” against Islamic militants in south Yemen.

Yemeni military police collect evidence at the site of a suicide bomb attack in Sanaa on May 21, 2012. (Photo: AFP)

Monday’s suicide blast comes 10 days after Yemen’s military launched an American-backed offensive against al-Qaeda insurgents. AQAP took control over several southern Yemen towns during the chaos surrounding the country’s 2011 uprising that led to former President Saleh’s ouster. The United States military is aiding in the new push with surveillance technology to help plan attacks and airstrikes for Yemen’s armed forces. U.S. drones are also being used. The fighting has been especially bloody as of late, with some 150 people killed across a six-day timeframe last week. But events are starting to look up for Yemen’s security forces, which closed in on an Islamic militant stronghold over the weekend held by AQAP for over a year. This success did not come without casualties, however, and 17 died on Sunday in clashes between AQAP and government forces. Moreover, in a video discovered this week on jihadist web message boards, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri called on the people of Yemen to turn against the new president, depicting him as an agent of the former president and the United States.

To Washington, AQAP is not only a threat to regional security — as the terrorist group attempts to gain a bigger foothold near Red Sea oil shipping routes — but also to national security with the group’s ongoing attempts to attack the United States. If al-Qaeda is able to maintain or expand its influence in Yemen, trouble is on the horizon for the national security interests of the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East.