Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed it executed yesterday’s suicide assault on the Ministry of Defense in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in an effort to strike at the US’ drone program that targets AQAP leaders, operatives, and foot soldiers. The suicide assault resulted in the deaths of 52 people, including foreign doctors and nurses, and 11 AQAP fighters.
AQAP made the claim in a series of tweets at the newly established Twitter site of “Malahem Media.” The Twitter site was promoted by Abdul Razzaq al Jamal, a Yemeni journalist who is closely tied to AQAP and “who often posts communiqués and videos from AQAP before their official release on jihadi forums,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group. Al Malahem Media is the official media outlet for AQAP.
AQAP claimed it targeted the “operation rooms” for the drone program.
“As part of the policy of targeting the operation rooms of pilotless planes, the mujahideen (holy fighters) have heavily struck one of these rooms in Defense Ministry headquarters,” the group said, according to Reuters.
“Such joint military locations, which participate with the Americans in their war against this Muslim nation, are a legitimate target for our operations,” AQAP continued in another tweet.
No US casualties were reported in yesterday’s assault, nor is it clear if the US maintains an operations room inside Yemen’s Ministry of Defense. Seven foreigners — two German and two Vietnamese doctors, and one Indian and two Filipino nurses — were killed during the attack as AQAP fighters overran a hospital inside the defense ministry complex.
The US has launched 23 drone strikes in Yemen so far this year. Between July 27 and Aug. 10, the US launched nine strikes in Yemen, but no drone strikes were reported for seven weeks prior to July 27. The spike in attacks from the end of July to mid-August was related to an al Qaeda plot that was uncovered by US officials. The plot’s discovery led the US to close down more than 20 embassies and diplomatic facilities across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The plot involved AQAP emir Nasir al Wuhayshi, who now also serves as al Qaeda’s general manager.
Despite the uptick of activity at the end of July and into the second week of August, the pace of the strikes has decreased since last year. In 2012, the US launched 41 drone strikes in Yemen against AQAP and its political front, Ansar al Sharia. The previous year, the US launched 10 drone and air strikes against the al Qaeda affiliate. The strikes are being reduced as the US government is facing increasing international criticism for conducting the attacks in both Yemen and Pakistan.
AQAP criticizes Yemeni military for cooperating with the US
In the recent tweets, AQAP also castigated the Yemeni military for cooperating with the US and ignoring the sectarian war against Shia Houthis in the town of Dammaj in the northern province of Saada. Hundreds of fighters from the Houthis and opposing Salafists have been killed during fighting in Dammaj over the past several weeks.
“The duty of the army is to defend the country and not pant behind the American desires while standing idle towards what is happening in Dammaj,” one tweet said, according to SITE.
AQAP made similar criticisms of the Yemeni military in a video that was released last month. In that video, AQAP officials lectured captured Yemeni soldiers for fighting alongside the US, with Yemeni soldiers fighting on the ground and US drones acting as air cover [see LWJ report, AQAP video details suicide assaults against Yemeni bases in Shabwa].
Yesterday’s coordinated suicide assault against the Ministry of Defense is the latest in a series of similar attacks by AQAP against Yemeni security forces over the past several months. Some of the more high-profile suicide assaults include: the Sept. 20 suicide assaults against three military bases in Shabwa province; a raid on military headquarters in Mukallah in Hadramout on Sept. 30 (the base was held by the AQAP fighters for days before the military retook control); and the Oct. 18 suicide assault on a military training center in Abyan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.