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Yemen Attack Highlights al-Qaeda Threat

Hannah Schaeffer

Terrorists killed seven soldiers on a military base in Southern Yemen on Friday, representing the latest attack by suspected al-Qaeda militants in recent weeks. An explosive-laden vehicle was driven inside the compound and detonated. After the bombing, a firefight between troops and the attackers ensued for over an hour until the remaining militants fled.

The attack highlights the growing presence of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al-Qaeda militants have accused Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi of being complicit with the U.S. in carrying out drone strikes against al-Qaeda suspects. The U.S. government considers al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula one of the world’s most capable and most dangerous branches. After regional revolts pushed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power last year, Hadi established an offensive with help from the U.S. against the Islamist extremists and al-Qaeda linked groups in the South. While the government did gain tenuous control from the offensive, militants live within society and are difficult to target.

Military police stand guard outside a national security court where suspected militants attend a court session in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (Photo: AP)

Alongside the strength of AQAP, thousands of separatists demanding secession from the north also pose obstacles to political stability in Yemen. On October 12, the anniversary of the 1967 secession of South Yemen, tens of thousands of Yemenis rallied in the streets of Eden and demanded independence from the north. The separatist movement has been a stumbling block during Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference, which was due to close on September 18. As part of a transitional process required by a UNSC-backed initiative, organizers hoped to design a process for drafting a new Constitution and start general elections by 2014. Deep divisions between northerners and southerners over how much regional autonomy each side should have from the central government stalled any agreement.

Unrest in Yemen has direct implications for the larger Gulf region and the U.S. AQAP’s ability to export violence far beyond the Middle East has tested Western officials. In 2010, AQAP attempted to send bombs through the mail to Jewish temples in Chicago. But locally, militants in Yemen have close borders with U.S. allied Saudi Arabia. Yemen also shares a narrow passage with Djibouti, an important outpost for U.S. military and near vital shipping lanes.