A Twitter account affiliated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula announced yesterday that AQAP fighters had killed more than 50 Yemeni soldiers during the group’s Aug. 7 attack on the Yemeni Army’s 1st Military District headquarters in the city of Seyoun in Hadramout province. The district, whose jurisdiction covers the Wadi Hadramout area, has seen violent clashes between the Yemeni military and AQAP in recent weeks.
The AQAP Twitter account reported that the attack on the district’s headquarters began when a suicide bomber named Abu Ahmad al-Lahji entered the base and detonated his suicide vest as soldiers began to crowd around him. Following the explosion, the seven remaining AQAP attackers stormed the base and engaged in clashes with Yemeni troops.
According to the tweet, the AQAP attackers managed to detain a group of Yemeni soldiers at the base and then summarily executed them. The AQAP tweet noted that communication between the attackers and AQAP’s leadership was ongoing throughout the operation and that the AQAP fighters killed “more than fifty soldiers.”
Arabic news sources claimed that other AQAP-affiliated Twitter accounts announced that the seven AQAP attackers were killed during the course of the assault. Those reports identified them as: Abu Dhar al-Lahji, Abu Khitab al-Sana’ani, Abu Anas al-Sharuri, Abu Dajjana al-Sharuri, Abu Awwad al-Azzani, Abu Ahmad al-Lahji, Abu al-Raheem al-Adani, and Khitab al-Hadhrami. Based on their names, it would appear that four of the attackers were Yemenis, and two were Saudis (from the southern Saudi province of Sharura).
The Aug. 7 attack came on the second day of heavy fighting between the Yemeni military and AQAP militants in the area. On Aug. 6, nine AQAP fighters were killed in Hadramout as they tried to ambush soldiers heading to eastern Yemen. On Aug. 7, in coordination with the attack in Seyoun, a small group of AQAP fighters briefly took over government buildings in the nearby town of Qatn.
The Yemeni Defense Ministry had responded to initial reports of the Aug. 7 attack on the Seyoun military headquarters by commenting that army personnel successfully defended the base and killed the terrorists who had attempted to take control over the regional headquarters. The ministry also confirmed that Yemeni soldiers had killed 25 AQAP fighters in the two days of fighting in Wadi Hadramout, including the seven attackers from the Aug. 7 incident. According to Xinhua, the Yemeni military later arrested four AQAP members suspected of involvement in the attack.
In an apparent response to Yemeni military advances, AQAP kidnapped and executed 14 Yemeni soldiers on Aug. 8 as they were returning home from duty in eastern Yemen. The soldiers were kidnapped from a public bus and their bodies were found riddled with bullets three hours later on a road near Seyoun.
The ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, Hadramout province has become an AQAP bastion over the past several years. AQAP has regrouped in Hadramout and other provinces after losing control of major cities in Abyan and Shabwa to government forces starting in late spring 2012. In May 2013, the Yemeni government claimed it foiled a plot by AQAP to establish an Islamic emirate in the Ghayl Bawazir area. Last month, AQAP distributed leaflets in Seyoun that said the jihadist group is establishing an emirate in Hadramout and will impose sharia, or Islamic law.
Developing events in Yemen are notoriously difficult to report, as both local authorities and AQAP are thought to exaggerate their achievements at times. In a 2012 letter of advice to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the leader of AQAP, emphasizes that the media is the terror group’s “most important weapon” and counsels to use it wisely. The Yemeni government, for its part, is believed to overstate its achievements in fighting AQAP, and some claim that Yemeni authorities intentionally inflate assessments of the terrorist threat in the country in order to secure US support.