About 40 people killed in attacks on Yemen military
Officials believe al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula members behind assault
A soldier on on watch in Sanaa, Yemen. About 40 people have been killed in two attacks on military targets in southern Yemen early today. Photograph: Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters
Suspected al-Qaeda militants killed about 40 Yemeni soldiers and policemen in two attacks in the south of the country today - their deadliest for more than a year, security officials said.
About 30 soldiers died when two car bombs exploded at a military camp in al-Nashama, near the coast, and about 10 police were killed by gunmen in the inland town of Mayfaa.
Officials believe members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were behind both attacks, the security sources said. AQAP is seen by western countries as one of the most dangerous branches of al-Qaeda because it has attempted to carry out bombings on international airlines.
US drone strikes have killed scores of AQAP members and the Yemeni army has seized back large tracts of territory from the insurgents, prompting the country’s foreign minister to call today’s attacks a sign of increasing desperation.
“This attack was intended to demonstrate that they are still there. But it’s also a demonstration that they are losing the war against the security and stability of Yemen, ” the minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, told Reuters.
Ali al-Sarary, an aide to Yemen’s prime minister, said the attacks were aimed at thwarting the reconciliation efforts of a “national dialogue” set up between rival factions after a political uprising in 2011.
“The main goal is to foil a political settlement and prevent the national dialogue from reaching solutions on a number of issues, particularly issues in the south,” he said.
Today’s attacks were the deadliest against Yemen’s military since May 2012, when a suicide bomber in army uniform killed more than 90 soldiers at a parade in the capital, Sanaa.
A concealed bomb in one car exploded among a group of soldiers at the gate of the al-Nashama camp as the driver sought to enter. The other was already inside the camp when it exploded, one of the security sources said.
In Mayfaa, gunmen opened fire at a security headquarters, killing about 10 policemen before escaping in stolen vehicles, local residents said.
Both attacks took place in Yemen’s southern Shabwa Province, a lawless, rugged area that has been the scene of much fighting in recent years between Islamist militants and the security forces.
AQAP emerged as one of al-Qaeda’s most aggressive international affiliates and a direct threat to the US, when it claimed responsibility for an attempt by a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to down a Detroit-bound airliner on December 25th, 2009, with a bomb concealed in his underwear.
It said it was also behind a foiled plot to send two air freight packages containing bombs to the US in October 2010.
Intelligence pointing to a major impending attack by AQAP prompted the United States and other western countries to close many of their embassies temporarily in the Middle East, Africa and Asia early last month.
The militants took advantage of political chaos in Yemen during the Arab Spring in 2011 to seize control of some towns and surrounding areas in the south of the country.
They were beaten back by Yemeni forces with assistance from the US last year, and scattered into small groups spread across the country’s rugged, remote southern terrain.
Despite this, they have staged a series of attacks against government and military targets using a variety of tactics, from suicide and car bombs to drive-by shootings.
Yemen faces a range of domestic threats besides AQAP, including a growing secessionist movement in the south and a rebellion by the Houthis, a group of Zaydi Shia Muslims, in the north of the country.