18 December- In the third attack in two days, suicide bombers detonated two car bombs in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida. Nine people, including the two attackers were killed, and at least 15 others were wounded. Three additional suspected suicide bombers were killed by local security forces before they were able to detonate their explosives. On Twitter, Yemen’s al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
A day earlier, two suicide car bombers rammed their vehicles into a Shiite rebels’ checkpoint and a house south of Sana’a as a school bus was travelling nearby. The detonation killed 31 people, including at least 20 primary school students, all under the age of 12. Witnesses reported that the car appeared to be loaded with potatoes which concealed the explosives hidden underneath. The car bomber arrived at a checkpoint manned by rebels and blew up the vehicle as a student bus was passing, filled with female primary school students. Immediately after the attack, rebel troops brought four pickup trucks to transport the bodies, while ambulances assisted the wounded. Witnesses state that body parts were strewn throughout the street, along with open bags of potatoes. The Houthis called the attack “the ugliest crime against childhood.” Later, a second car bomber targeted the home of a Shiite rebel leader Abdullah Idris. The attack marked the second time Idris’ residence had been targeted.
Houthis Gain Political Control
Yemen has been tumultuous since September, when rebel Shiite Houthi fighters captured Sana’a and forced Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa and his government to step down. The Houthis have become the de facto power base in Yemen, expanding control into areas south and west of Sana’a. The rebels are fighting two battles; on one front, they have engaged in several clashes with al Qaeda, driving them out of several strongholds. On the other front, they are battling the current Yemeni government, who they accuse of rampant embezzlement and corruption. On Tuesday, the power struggle between the Houthis and the Yemeni government came to a head as the rebels gained an increasing grip on state-run institutions.
On 16 December, Houthi rebels surrounded the Ministry of Defence, preventing the Minister of Defence from accessing his office, and Houthi fighters broke into the offices of al-Thawra newspaper to demand the dismissal of the Editor-in-Chief, Faisal Markam. The group claimed to be following orders from Houthi leader, Abdelmalek al-Huthi, who said to “to end corruption in all state institutions”. A day later, Houthi fighters seized control of Yemen’s Central Bank and the Department of Civil Status and Civil Registration. Militants sealed off the Central Bank, preventing employees from entering or leaving the premises. The Houthis believe Hadi is illegally using government funds to finance media outlets affiliated with his son. Houthis also seized control of the headquarters of SAFER, Yemen’s largest state-run oil and gas company.
On Thursday, Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah’s cabinet won a parliamentary vote of confidence. Bahah’s government, composed of technocrats and politicians from a range of parties, has the broad support of the Houthis but relations are not easy. Bahah suggested on Wednesday his government could resign after the rebels raided state institutions and sacked public officials. Strengthened by the vote, the government must now move forward gingerly, striking a balance between working with the Shiite Houthi rebels while avoiding sectarian strife with the Sunni majority. The Bahah government must also develop a strategy to deal with security threats from al-Qaeda militants and their affiliated tribal groups, as well as southern separatist movements.
Interpol has issued a global security alert linked to a suspected al-Qaeda involvement in a string of recent prison outbreaks that have taken place in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan. The alert comes just days after the United States State Department issued a global travel alert and closed a number of Embassies because of fears of an unspecified al-Qaeda attack.
Citing prison breaks in three countries, Interpol has requested that its members examine whether or not al-Qaeda militants were behind the prison breaks. The police agency is also asking that member countries “swiftly process any information linked to these events.” In a statement that was released on Saturday, the French-based agency stated that “with suspected al-Qaeda involvement in several of the breakouts which led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals, the Interpol alert requests the organizations 190 member countries‘ assistance in order to determine whether any of these recent events re coordinated or linked.” It also calls for Interpol to be informed “if any escaped terrorist is located or intelligence developed which could help prevent another terrorist attack.” The most recent escape occurred in north-west Pakistan, in which 248 prisoners escaped from a jail. On 30 July, Taliban militants used automatic weapons and bombs in order to break down the walls of the jail in Dera Ismail Khan. At least thirteen people, including six police officers, were killed during the attack. Authorities have since indicated that thirty of those who fled were “hardened militants” who were jailed for their involvement in a number of suicide bombings and other serious attacks. Meanwhile on 22 July, hundreds of inmates escaped from two jails in Iraq: Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad; and Taji, located to the north. Bombs and mortar fire were used to break into those two prisons in which al-Qaeda members were amongst those being housed in the facility.
US Extends Embassy Closure
Meanwhile the United States has announced that it will keep a number of embassies in northern Africa and in the Middle East closed until Saturday, due to a possible militant threat. After an announcement on Friday pertaining to a possible threat, twenty-one US embassies were closed on Sunday. On Monday, the State Department in Washington indicated that the extension of closures were “out of abundance of caution,” and not in reaction to a new threat. With the State Department announcing that the potential for an al-Qaeda-inspired attack being particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa, the global travel alert will be in force until the end of August. Although US diplomatic missions in Algiers, Kabul and Baghdad remained open on Monday, its diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa and Tripoli will remain closed until Saturday. African missions including Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali, and Port Louis are also on the list of closures. The US embassy in Tel Aviv, along with two consulates in Jerusalem and Haifa, were also closed on Sunday.
It is evident that security at US diplomatic facilities remains a concern following last year’s attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the US ambassador, along with three other Americans, were killed. Officials in the United Kingdom also announced over the weekend that its embassy in Yemen would remain closed until the Muslim festival of Eid which will occur on Thursday. The UK Foreign Office is also advising against all travel to Yemen and is strongly urging British nationals in the country to leave. Several other European countries have also temporarily closed their missions in Yemen.
The embassy closures and US global travel alert came after the US reportedly intercepted al-Qaeda messages suggesting that they were between senior figures within the militant group who were plotting an attack against an embassy. While the details of the threat have remained unspecified, it is evident that those members of Congress who have been briefed on the intelligence, seem to agree that it amounts to one of the most serious in recent years, effectively pointing to the possibility of a major attack which may coincide with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.
In recent years, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, which is known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has attempted to carry out several high profile attacks, including one on Christmas Day in 2009 in which a man attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet over Detroit, using explosives that were sewn into his underwear. Months earlier, the militant group had also attempted to assassinate the Saudi intelligence chief by using a bomb that was attached to the attacker’s body.