Yemeni military launches operation to free Western hostages held by AQAP
Kaid al Dhahab, the new AQAP emir for Baydah province. Photo from The Yemen Post.
The Yemeni Army launched an offensive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the central Yemeni province of Baydah in an effort to free three Western hostages who were kidnapped by tribesmen in the capital and then sold to the terror group.
Dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers, along with supporting infantry and artillery, moved into the Maneseeh area of Baydah province last night to hunt for a Finnish couple and an Austrian man. Three people were killed during the initial stages of the fighting; it is unclear if they were soldiers, AQAP fighters, or civilians.
AQAP responded to the offensive in Maneseeh by attacking Yemeni forces in the nearby city of Rada'a. Three soldiers were killed and 10 more were wounded in an ambush that targeted a military checkpoint, according to Reuters. In another retaliatory move, a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a military checkpoint in Rada'a, killing at least eight soldiers and wounding another 10, Al Jazeera reports.
The Yemeni operation is targeting three "brothers of Tariq al Dhahab," who are thought to be holding the hostages, according to AFP. While the wire service has not identified the Dhahab brothers, they are no doubt. Kaid, Nabil, and Abdelrauf Dhabab, three local AQAP commanders who have been the target of US drone strikes in the past.
AQAP in Baydah
AQAP has increased its presence in Baydah province over the past two years, and the US has pursued the terror group with drone strikes. The US has launched three drone strikes in the Maneseeh area since September 2012; two took place at the end of December. On Dec. 24, the drones killed Abdullah Hussein al Waeli, a Yemeni operative who escaped from prison two years ago, and a Jordanian fighter. And on Dec. 29, the US killed Saleh Mohammed al Ameri, another senior AQAP leader, and two fighters.
Kaid took control of AQAP in Baydah after the death of his brother Tariq, who was murdered by the eldest brother, Hazam, a tribal leader who feared that the family's involvement with AQAP would incur the wrath of the government. Tariq's followers retaliated for their leader's death and killed Hazam.
Before he was killed, Tariq had seized control of Baydah, raised al Qaeda's banner, sworn allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, and warned that "the Islamic Caliphate is coming."
After Tariq's death, Kaid and Nabil were tasked with regrouping AQAP's forces in Baydah. They were targeted by a US drone strike on May 28, 2012, but survived.
Abdelrauf has also been targeted by the US. He was the focus of the Sept. 2, 2012 drone strike in Rada'a that killed 13 civilians.
The Dhahabs are brothers-in-law of Anwar al Awlaki, the US citizen who served as a senior al Qaeda operational commander and ideologue. Awlaki was killed in a US drone strike in the fall of 2011.