A bomb attack against a tourist convoy in Yemen killed at least eight Spanish tourists and wounded several others July 2. The target indicates that it is likely the work of jihadist elements. Though al Qaeda's Yemeni branch has seen a decline in recent years, the threat remains because the country sits at the geographical crossroads of four different jihadist theaters in the region.
A car bombing incident July 2 at an ancient temple in the eastern Yemeni province of Mareb reportedly killed eight people and wounded seven others. Authorities say six of the dead were tourists, most of whom were believed to be from Spain, while the other two were Yemeni nationals. Judging from the target and from recent Islamist militant communiques, this appears to be the work of al Qaeda-linked jihadists. The Yemeni node of al Qaeda has for the most part remained dormant for several years now, barring the failed twin attacks against energy-related targets in September 2006. But recently, a statement was issued in the name of the new jihadist leadership in the country. A man identifying himself as Abu Basir Nasir al-Wahishi — one of about two dozen suspected militants who in February 2006 fled a high-security prison in Sanaa — claimed in a 20-minute audio statement posted on jihadist Web sites in late June that he had been appointed as the leader of al Qaeda's branch in Yemen. The man, who also uses the nom de guerre Abu Hureira al-Sanaani, said his group's full name is al Qaeda of the Jihad in Yemen. The same group also claimed the September 2006 attack and dedicated the operations to the deceased leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and another militant killed in Pakistan.
Moreover, Yemen's intelligence services have in the past had a significant radical Salafi/Wahhabi and jihadist presence. In the 2006 presidential elections, major radical Salafi religious scholar Abdel-Majeed al-Zindani issued a fatwa obligating voters to cast their ballots in favor of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. While these linkages between Salafist and jihadist elements and the state remain, Saleh's regime has also supported the war against militant Islamists, which led to the weakening of the jihadist presence in the country. However, there are reasonable suspicions that a fair share of Yemen's security apparatus sympathizes with and supports jihadist operations in the country. Furthermore, Yemen sits on a major jihadist thoroughfare connecting four different Islamist militant arenas — Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan/Pakistan. This will ensure that Yemen remains a hotbed of jihadist action for the foreseeable future.