AQAP launches suicide assault on Yemeni defense ministry complex

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula killed more than 50 people in a suicide assault that targeted Yemen’s Ministry of Defense complex in the capital of Sana’a. The attack is the latest in a series of suicide assaults in Yemen that have targeted security forces.

Today’s attack began when a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives at the outer wall of the complex near a hospital, according to Reuters. Then, a second car filled with heavily armed AQAP fighters dressed in military uniforms entered the breach in the wall and opened fire.

The AQAP fighters then “broke into three departments of the ministry, and exchanged gunfire with the soldiers,” Xinhua reported. AQAP fighters gunned down “two German and two Vietnamese doctors, and one Indian and two Filipino nurses” during the assault, Reuters reported. At least one doctor and a nurse were executed in front of the staff.

Yemeni soldiers and AQAP fighters battled for several hours before the AQAP fighters were killed. The exact number of AQAP fighters involved in the attack has not been disclosed but it is estimated to have been carried out by about a dozen AQAP operatives.

At least 52 people, including soldiers, medical staff, and AQAP fighters, were killed during the fighting, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement, according to Al Jazeera.

Today’s suicide assault took place just two weeks after President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi claimed that AQAP’s activities have been “reduced” in Yemen. Hadi said members of the terror group “began to flee to other areas suffering upheaval such as Syria, Egypt, Libya and North Africa” after a military offensive was launched in 2012 to uproot AQAP from southern provinces that it controlled.

But AQAP has remained active in Yemen. In early August, the US closed down its embassy in Sana’a and more than two dozen other diplomatic facilities across the world after receiving intelligence warning of a major attack. The threat was traced back to a plot discussed by Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, and Nasir al Wuhayshi, AQAP’s emir who also serves as al Qaeda’s general manager. The embassy in Sana’a remains closed to this day.

AQAP has continued to launch suicide assaults, bombings, and assassinations throughout Yemen. 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.

The suicide assault, or coordinated attack using multiple suicide bombers and an assault team, is a common tactic used by al Qaeda and its allies, including the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Suicide assault are commonly executed in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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