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Jul 27, 2010 | 22:25 GMT

4 mins read

Yemen: AQAP's Assault Against the Government

Yemen's local al Qaeda node, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has claimed credit for a string of high-profile attacks and targeted assassinations in the past month, indicating that the group has broken a long-held tacit agreement with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to avoid directly targeting the Yemeni state. This renewed aggression against the Yemeni state is a result of counterterrorism efforts by Yemeni security forces in AQAP strongholds as well as the rise of a more radical second generation of Yemeni militancy.
On the evening of July 25, militants with the Yemeni al Qaeda node, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), attacked a military checkpoint in the northeastern area of al Oqlah in the eastern province of Shabwa, the Yemen Times reported. Six Yemeni soldiers and three AQAP operatives, including senior militant Zayid al-Daghari were killed in the firefight, which Shabwa police commander Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Maqdashi said was apparently an attempt to raid an adjacent oil exploration field run by Austrian oil company OMV. Al-Maqdashi said some of the assailants were also suspected of committing a July 22 attack on a patrol vehicle in Shabwa's provincial capital, Ataq, that killed five policemen. The incidents follow a June 19 attack in Aden on the southern headquarters of Yemen's security and intelligence agency, the Political Security Organization (PSO), that resulted in 11 deaths, as well as a July 14 attack targeting both a PSO facility and the headquarters of the Abyan General Security agency in Zinjibar, Abyan province, that killed four people. AQAP claimed responsibility for both attacks in a statement posted to radical Islamist websites, saying they were in response to the death of an AQAP militant in Abyan at the hands of Yemeni security officials. The group also claimed it was behind previous assassinations of a number of Yemeni security officers and vowed to carry out more attacks against Yemeni targets. These strikes, all against institutions representative of the Yemeni government's security-intelligence apparatus, appear to indicate a radical shift in the Yemeni al Qaeda node's target set. AQAP has attacked Yemeni targets before, but these strikes are the first time the group has specifically targeted the state's security-intelligence apparatus. The attacks are a response to the government's ongoing security campaign against the volatile eastern province of Marib, a key AQAP stronghold. In a video message posted to jihadist websites June 18, AQAP called for tribes in the province to revolt against the Yemeni government for its counterterrorism campaign there. Additionally, AQAP has, for a number of months, been carrying out a gradual campaign of targeted assassinations against security officials in known AQAP hotspots, which has until now been largely unseen in Yemen. These were likely acts of retaliation against the government for the joint U.S.-Yemeni counterterrorism efforts against the Yemeni al Qaeda node that began in December 2009 with a number of headline-catching, though largely unsuccessful, airstrikes on AQAP targets. Underlying these shifts is a change in the composition of Yemeni militancy, represented by AQAP. The first generation of al Qaeda militants, who fought in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation in the 1980s, had a tacit agreement with Sanaa to refrain from targeting the Yemeni state in exchange for the ability to live and operate freely in the country, with some even joining the ranks of and ascending to high-level positions in the security-intelligence apparatus. AQAP is a second generation of militants, headed by veteran jihadist Nasir al Wahayshi and his second-in-command and chief of military operations, Qasim al Raymi — whose aggressiveness and alleged role in a number of brutal assassinations have earned him comparisons among U.S. and Yemeni security officials to former al Qaeda in Iraq chief Abu Musab al Zarqawi. These militants, unlike their predecessors, are openly hostile to the Yemeni government and have demonstrated no intent to compromise with Sanaa. Thus, indications are that AQAP will continue its assault against both government and Western targets in Yemen. This will most likely force Sanaa, with U.S. backing, to intensify its offensive against the group. Already stretched thin with an aggressive secessionist movement in the south and growing violence in the north, Saleh will have his work cut out for him.

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