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ISIS Targets Yemen as Talks Stall

Mina Hamblet
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) addresses the Yemeni delegations at the Kuwait Peace Talks. (Photo: UN)

Islamic State’s Yemeni affiliate claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on Monday that claimed the lives of 43 people and wounded at least 24 others in the port city of al-Mukalla. The terrorists appeared to have targeted security checkpoints with their actions coming as negotiations to end Yemen’s civil war seem to have stalled.

Two suicide bombers and several other gunman carried out seven near-simultaneous assaults, including planting a car bomb near a military intelligence office and storming a police station. A second bomber attacked soldiers preparing for Iftar, the evening meal breaking the Ramadan fast, in the center of the city.

Mukalla became a hotbed of Sunni jihadists during Yemen’s civil war, while government forces were concentrating on fighting Iranian-backed Houthis elsewhere in the country. The city remained a stronghold for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for over a year, exploiting the conflict’s lawless spaces to acquire money, weapons, and territory. In April, the Yemeni government backed by a coalition of Arab armies launched a successful military operation to take back Mukalla. Security officials continue to uncover and arrest AQAP cells in the region; both AQAP and Islamic State have taken responsibility for other recent attacks against security forces in Mukalla.

The unrest in Mukalla comes just as peace talks in Kuwait between the Houthis and the internationally recognized Hadi government have reached a standstill. The Hadi government called for the immediate rebel withdrawal from cities, while the Houthis and their allies are demanding the formation of a unity government before any on-the-ground changes are implemented. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon visited the conference this week stressing the “moral and political responsibility” of both sides to find a solution and end the humanitarian hardship of the Yemeni people.

The talks first began two months ago after the declaration of a UN-brokered ceasefire, but now negotiators plan to suspend the talks until after Ramadan in mid-July, according to the Associated Press. A durable settlement remains distant, with one negotiator for President Hadi’s government characterizing promise of returning just a measure “meant to save face.”  Unfortunately for both sides, it appears the Sunni jihadists won’t be as patient.