Yemen: The Skillful Jihadist Attack and Signs of Trouble

3 MINS READApr 16, 2008 | 16:25 GMT
Three police officers died in an April 16 explosion in Yemen’s Marib province. The sophistication of the attack is further indication that some of the country’s jihadist cells are becoming increasingly skillful — and that spells trouble for the already volatile Middle Eastern country.
A bomb explosion killed three policemen and injured four civilians early April 16 in Yemen’s Marib province. The bombing is the latest in a string of jihadist attacks to hit Yemen in recent weeks. The blast occurred about 8:30 a.m. local time at a spot where the officers reportedly parked every day. Marib Gov. Aref al Zoka said the explosion was caused by a land mine, while a security source told Agence France-Presse it was detonated by remote control. These are not necessarily conflicting statements, however. The bomber could have used a command detonation firing chain to make a mine into a remote-controlled improvised explosive device (IED). Many mines, such as claymores, frequently are used in this fashion. Although Yemen has witnessed a notable uptick in jihadist activity, the majority of attacks have exhibited a low level of militant professionalism. Over the past four months, the bulk of attacks in the country have involved the use of gunmen and grenades, which require a relatively low level of skill, resources and dedication by the perpetrators. In recent mortar attacks, which require some skill in successfully hitting the target, the attackers frequently have missed the mark. Given Yemen’s geographic position — sandwiched between the jihadist hubs of Somalia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan — and its significant Salafist minority, it was only a matter of time before more skilled, battle-hardened militants made their way to the tip of the Arabian Peninsula in search of more favorable conditions to wage their insurgency. Unlike jihadist attacks in Yemen over the past several months, this latest attack exhibited the skills of a more sophisticated jihadist cell. An explosion caused by a buried, remotely controlled IED carries the tactical signature of jihadists who have experience fighting in a place such as Iraq. Such an attack requires careful planning, not to mention preoperational surveillance in order to plant the bomb at the police officers’ daily parking spot. The attack also was well-executed, considering that it succeeded in killing the officers. Although this latest attack was carried out by a more professional team, the skills of the various jihadist nodes in Yemen appear to vary widely. Other skillful attacks have occurred over the past year, such as the July 2007 suicide car bombing against a convoy of tourist vehicles at an ancient temple in Marib, which killed nine people. But the majority of attacks have been largely amateurish in terms of their tactical capability. What Yemen has most to worry about is the potential for these various jihadist cells to learn to pool their skills and resources in order to wage a more coordinated insurgency. Jihadists in Yemen already have exhibited a penchant for focusing their attacks on more strategic targets, including the country’s energy infrastructure, security forces and even hard diplomatic targets such as the U.S. Embassy in the capital — a fact that led the U.S. State Department on April 7 to order its nonessential staff members and their families to leave the country. This target set, combined with an apparent upgrade in tactics and increased tempo of attacks, spells trouble for the future stability of this already volatile country.

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