AQAP attacks in Abyan, Lahj, and Hodeidah in Yemen

Over the weekend, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) carried out a series of attacks in three Yemeni coastal provinces in the south and west of the country, including a coordinated attack in Hodeidah province, which is currently under Houthi rebel control.

During the evening of Oct. 30, suspected AQAP gunmen riding a motorbike shot an intelligence officer in Lahj province. The drive-by shooting took place in the provincial capital of al Houta and the officer, Fadl al Majidi, was killed instantly by the attack. Security sources in Lahj claimed that the assailants managed to flee the scene.

Concurrently, a similar attack in Abyan province claimed the life of a Yemeni soldier. The soldier was shot dead as he was returning to the military barracks from the public market in the city of Mahfad, long considered to be an AQAP stronghold.

A few days later, during the night between Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, AQAP fighters launched a coordinated attack on the Jabal al Ras district in southeastern Hodeidah province. Local residents told the media that the fighters coming from the Wisab district of neighboring Dhamar province arrived in Jabal al Ras at around 5:00 p.m. on Nov. 1.

The mujahideen then allegedly divided into two groups – one to attack the main security headquarters in the area and another to target checkpoints. The first group of jihadists assaulted the security headquarters building with various forms of artillery. Arabic media reports indicated that the AQAP fighters managed to take control of the building following intense clashes with security personnel on site.

According to locals in the area, the second group of mujahideen staged an ambush of Yemeni reinforcement units mobilized from a Special Forces checkpoint in the area. After attacking the Yemeni soldiers, this second group of AQAP fighters then stormed the Special Forces checkpoint.

Arabic media reports claim that between 13 and 18 Yemenis were killed in the attacks in Jabal al Ras, with some reports detailing the casualties as nine Special Forces soldiers, seven general security forces soldiers, one Yemeni soldier, and one small business owner killed.

Some reports suggested that the Jabal al Ras municipal security director, Mansour Abu Hadi, was wounded in the AQAP attacks. Additionally, other media reports claim that Abu Hadi’s son was among those killed in the attacks. Three AQAP fighters were reported killed in the Jabal al Ras campaign.

Media reports also indicate that AQAP fighters took a number of Yemeni soldiers captive during their assault. While many reports claimed that 15 soldiers were taken, others put the figure at only three.

By early morning on Nov. 2, AQAP fighters withdrew from Jabal al Ras, apparently due to the large presence of local residents and tribesmen opposed to their campaign. Later in the day, reports emerged that Houthi rebels had consolidated their control over the area, filling the vacuum left by the jihadists’ withdrawal.

AQAP’s westward push into Hodeidah province comes just weeks following the Houthi rebels’ swift seizure of the significant port city of Hodeidah on the Red Sea coast as well as the central city of Dhamar. Over the past month, AQAP has been challenging the Houthi advance throughout the country and staging attacks in strategic locations seized by the rebels. After the Houthis took Ibb province in mid-October, AQAP fighters attacked and seized Al Adayn in southwestern Ibb.

The recent campaign in Jabal al Ras, right over the Ibb-Hodeidah border, is yet another instance of AQAP bringing the fight to the Houthis and sustaining its armed challenge to the Shiite rebels’ growing power in Yemen.

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