Monday, 11 June 2012

Yemen: Major terrorist attack fails to intimidate the regime

A suicide bomber managed to infiltrate arehearsal for the 21 May Unity Day parade in Sab'in Square in Sana'a two days before the event and blew himself up. He killed at least 100 soldiers and wounded up to 350 others. Both Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Ansar al-Shariah claimed responsibility for the attack, which they said was in retaliation for the escalation in military action (which it described as American-led) against Ansar in Abyan.

There are conflicting reports about what happened and whether or not other suicide bombers may have tried and failed to attack the soldiers. AQAP says that the main target was the minister of defence but eye-witnesses noted that the bomber inserted himself into a group of soldiers some 500 metres from where the minister was standing. There were reports before the event that Yemeni security forces were looking for suicide bombers and reports since of the arrest of other bombers who failed to get into the parade rehearsal. Most of those killed or wounded appear to belong to the Central Security Organisation (CSO). Many of the injured have been flow abroad for treatment.

The parade went ahead, though it was switched to the more secure location of the Aviation Academy, in an area controlled by General Ali Mohsen 's First Armoured Division. The number of participants was greatly reduced, with most soldiers excluded. President Abd al-Rab Mansour Hadi , accompanied by his ministers and political, security and military leaders (from different persuasions and loyalties) attended in a gesture of solidarity and defiance. Security was in the hands of the Political Security Organisation, instead of the CSO. The chief of staff, General Ahmad al-Ashwal , said that the parade was a “response to the terrorists' savage suicide bombing in Al-Saba'in that was aimed at stopping the unity celebrations”. He added that it would not stop the war against AQAP and Ansar in Abyan.

Initial reports said that the bomber was Amir al- Din al-Warfi from Ibb, who had spent a period in prison for his links to Al-Qa'ida. This was quickly corrected after AQAP put out a statement naming the bomber as Haytham Hamed Hussein Mafurrah , who may have been a member of the CSO.

T here can have been few such devastating attacks by a single bomber. It says much about Yemen that such an attack could take place – and that it has not deflected the government, the international community or most Yemenis from pressing on with all parts of the transition process. It was a singular success for AQAP and it no doubt had in mind the symbolic importance of Unity Day in the eyes of south Yemenis. On the other hand, it has led to a new determination by Hadi and his international allies to eliminate AQAP and defeat Ansar al- Shariah. AQAP will no doubt plan further attacks – as it has done in Iraq and Afghanistan in not dissimilar circumstances. Yemeni security forces have strengthened checkpoints around Sana'a.

For more news and expert analysis about Yemen, please see Yemen Focus.

© 2012 Menas Associates

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