Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took credit in an internet statement Friday for a pair of suicide attacks that targeted South Koreans in Yemen.
A teen-aged suicide bomber killed four South Korean tourists in Shibam, Hadramout on March 15. A second terror attack three days later in Sana’a targeted a convoy of family members and South Korean investigators. The motorcade had left a military camp and was traveling along a highway when a suicide bomber detonated his device between two of the cars. There were no injuries to the passengers.
According to al Tajamo Weekly, the terrorist obtained information on the route and schedule of the delegation from Yemen’s security forces who were aware of the attack twelve hours in advance.
The internet statement said the attacks were an effort to “expel the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula” and were in retribution for the killing of Hamza al Qaiti by security forces after a suicide bombing in Sayoun last August. As additional rationale, the group cited South Korea’s “alliance with Crusader forces” in Iraq and Afghanistan, the corrupting influence of tourism, and the spread of Christianity. The statement rejected the concept of a covenant of protection for visitors.
At a special parliamentary session, opposition and majority members of parliament alleged that the Yemeni security forces are infiltrated by al Qaeda. MPs also accused the Yemeni government of deploying al Qaeda for political purposes. Independent MP Sakhr Al Wajih said the government itself was involved in many of the terrorist acts that took place over the last years. Parliament called for the disclosure of the ambiguous relationship between Yemeni authorities and al Qaeda. A ranking member of the ruling party said the relationship between the government and al Qaeda had harmed the country. Another MP said that it was clear that al Qaeda had penetrated the Yemeni security forces.
Six “al Qaeda” members were arrested following the attacks. Authorities said the six were planning an additional ten suicide attacks on foreign interests, oil infrastructure, and government facilities. Another eight of 22 terrorists present at a terror camp in Shabwa were arrested.
The Shibam bomber had trained in Somalia, authorities said. Yemen and Somalia are separated by the narrow Bab al Mendab strait, which serves as a conduit for weapons, jihadists, and contraband from Yemen to the Horn of Africa, and for the thousands of refugees who flee Somalia annually. Many Yemenis have fought in Somalia with the Islamic Courts Union, and tens of thousands of Somalis have sought refuge in Yemen since 2005.
Security forces also arrested four al Qaeda members at the Darwa Center in Sana’a in connection with the attacks, including a Saudi national, Abu Bakr al Dosi. The Darwa Center denied reports by the newspaper 26 September, the mouthpiece of the military, that the Shibam bomber had attended the center.
26 September also reported the arrest of 10 al Qaeda suspects who had volunteered for jihad in Afghanistan and Somalia but were deceived by al Qaeda and brought instead to Yemen’s Marib governorate for training and indoctrination for suicide attacks. Security sources said that al Qaeda had recruited numerous young men under 18 to carry out attacks in the country.
The attacks on the South Koreans are the latest in a series of terror operations in Yemen directed at Western targets. Eight Spanish tourists were killed in Marib in July 2007 by a suicide bomber. Two Belgian tourists were murdered in an ambush on their convoy in Hadramout in January 2008. A spate of errant mortar attacks in Sana’a targeted the US embassy, Italian consulate, and a western housing complex early in 2008. In September 2008, a double suicide car bombing at the US Embassy in Sana’a killed ten, along with six attackers.
In mid-March, Yemen brought 16 terrorists to trial, including four Syrians and a Saudi. The group was charged with a total of 23 terrorist attacks including those on Western targets. The men denied the charges, claimed they were tortured, and admitted fighting in Iraq.
In the north, newly arrived foreign terrorists have begun organizing. Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh reportedly struck a deal with Ayman al Zawahiri late last year. Zawahiri would supply Saleh with al Qaeda terrorists to aid the military’s efforts in the Saada War against northern Shiite rebels. A significant number of terrorists arrived in Sa’ada by March. The Yemen Times reported, “Jihadist groups, or Salafia – including Yemenis and foreigners from neighboring Arab and non-Arab countries – started gathering in areas around villages and towns where Houthi supporters live.” The report indicated that the Yemeni military was overseeing the build-up.
Al Tajamo described the “striking emergence of Salafi groups” which included “members of various Arab nationalities as well as citizens from different provinces.” The groups were in the process of organizing a unified structure, the paper said. The Yemeni government has deployed al Qaeda terrorists as both fighters and trainers in the Saada War since 2005.
President Saleh is deploying a second terrorist contingent in South Yemen. In January, President Saleh negotiated with Tariq al Fahdli, Khalidabdul al Nabi, and other members of the reportedly defunct Aden Abyan Islamic Army. The President asked the terrorists to “secure the unity of Yemen” by targeting the southern separatist movement. New training camps were established under military direction. Saleh paid al Fahdli several million Yemeni Riyals and over 100 terrorists were freed from jail.
This month, two southern political leaders in Amran governorate were assassinated. Mohsen Wakaz was shot dead along with his toddler son on March 19. Wakaz was the deputy secretary of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) in Amran governorate. Days earlier, another YSP leader, Ali Saleh Alzakeri was murdered.
Party leaders denounced the murders and declared their resolve in the face of what they claim is an assassination campaign. Over 150 YSP leaders were assassinated between 1990’s unity and 1994’s civil war. President Saleh’s northern forces won the 1994 civil war over the Southern Yemeni Socialist Party in part due to the participation of veterans of the Afghan jihad.
Jihadists have made significant inroads in establishing an “Islamic Emirate” in Ja’ar, Abyan. Increased militant activity is also occurring in Aden governorate. Newly arrived fundamentalists have established new centers and are stopping cars to check the relationships between the male and female passengers.