On 14 January, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo’s which killed 12 last week. In a speech by AQAP senior official Nasser bin Ali al Ansi entitled “Vengeance for the Messenger of Allah,” Al Ansi says, “We in the Organization of Qa’idatul Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula claim responsibility for this operation as a vengeance for the Messenger of Allah.”
Al Ansi and AQAP take responsibility for selecting the target, planning and financing the operation. He adds that the operation was under the “order of our general emir, the generous Sheikh Ayman bin Muhammad al Zawahiri.” and the “will” of Sheikh Osama bin Laden.
AQAP had threatened Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier in the past. The editor was named specifically in a poster enclosed in a 2013 issue of Inspire magazine. The poster listed names of individuals wanted, “Dead or Alive For Crimes Against Islam.” Charbonnier, was killed in the attack.
While taking responsibility for attacks on the magazine conducted by brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, al Ansi denies any connections to the killings conducted by Ahmed Coulibaly, who conducted an attack at a kosher grocery store in Paris, killing four, including a French police officer. Al Ansi calls it “tawfeeq” (good fortune) that the operation coincided with the attack conducted by Coulibaly.
Al Ansi’s description of the Kouachi brothers is consistent with other evidence. Cherif Kouachi gave an interview to a French tv station while hiding in a printing factory after the Paris attack. He stated, “I was sent, me, Cherif Kouachi, by al Qaeda in Yemen. I went there and Sheikh Anwar al Awlaki financed my trip.”
It is believed that the brothers may have travelled to Yemen and met directly with Awlaki. Some reports have indicated that Cherif, the younger of the brothers, was the aggressor in the attacks. It has also been suggested that the brothers received training and financing from AQAP.
Separately, in an interview with a French television station, Ahmed Coulibaly said he was a member of ISIS. A video posted online after Coulibaly’s death shows him pledging allegiance to the terrorist group and its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Coulibaly claimed no ties to al Qaeda, which has an intense rivalry with ISIS
On Monday, France mobilized 10,000 troops to boost security across the country in the wake of last week’s deadly attacks. The increased security comes as more information on the attackers and their links to terrorist organizations surfaces. Questions are mounting as to how the attackers slipped through the intelligence services’ net. French authorities are now carrying out an investigation into last week’s attacks.
Security Boosted Across France
France on Monday announced an unprecedented deployment of thousands of troops and police in order to boost security at “sensitive” sites across the country. At an emergency security meeting, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced “we have decided…to mobilize 10,000 men to protect sensitive sites in the whole country from tomorrow (Tuesday) evening,” adding “this is the first time that our troops have been mobilized to such an extent on our soil.” Close to 5,000 police officers will also be deployed to guard 700 Jewish schools as well as places of worship. France’s alert level on Monday remained at its highest possible as French officials sought security answers.
The increased security presence comes as a French police source reported Saturday that law enforcement officers across France have been told to erase their social media presence and to carry their weapons at all times because terror sleeper cells have been activated over the last 24 hours in the country. According to the source, Amedy Coulibaly, a suspect killed Friday during the deadly hostage siege at a kosher market, had reportedly made several phone calls regarding the targeting of police officers in France. Saturdays’ development was just one of several as France begins to investigate a possible major intelligence failure.
Investigations into Intelligence Failures
France on Monday turned its attention to sealing security holes that have been blamed for failing to prevent the deadliest terrorist attack on the country in half a century. Last week’s attacks were a major intelligence failure, but they have also demonstrated how this new style of terrorism is proving to be a challenge for even the best intelligence agencies.
President Francois Hollande will chair a crisis meeting with cabinet ministers on Monday in order to discuss security measures after the shootings raised questions about how the attackers were able to slip from the radar of French intelligence services. Reports surfaced Saturday that brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi had been under watch by French officials, however that several despite red flags, authorities there lost interest in them. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has admitted that there were “clear failings” after it emerged that brothers Said, 34, and Cherif Kouachi, 32, had been on a US terror watch list “for years. Both brothers, as well as Amedy Coulibaly, 32, had a history of extremism and were known to French intelligence.
Said was known to have travelled to Yemen in 2011, where he received weapons training from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). French authorities had placed him under surveillance in November 2011 however they terminated this surveillance in June 2014 when French security services deemed him no longer dangerous. According to a senior Yemeni national security official, Said Kouachi entered Yemen multiple times with an officially issued visa. According to the official, “Said was not being watched during the duration of his stay in Yemen because he was not on the watch list,” adding that at the time, Yemen’s Western allies had not raised concerns about him. His brother Cherif was also a known jihadist who was convicted in 2008 of being involved in a network sending fighters to Iraq. While French intelligence officials believe that there is a strong possibility that Cherif also travelled to Yemen for a short trip in 2011, separately from his brother, surveillance of Cherif was terminated at the end of 2013 when his phone calls suggested that he had disengaged with violent extremism and was instead focused on counterfeiting clothing and shoes. Meanwhile Amedy Coulibaly was a repeat criminal offender who had been convicted for extremist Islamist activity. French prosecutors have indicated that Coulibaly, who killed four people at a kosher market on Friday, was also involved in the shooting of a jogger near Paris on Wednesday, the day of the attack on a magazine that kicked off the terror spree. Prosecutors have indicated that they have linked shell cases found in the eastern Paris town of Fontenay-aux-Roses, where the jogger was shot and severely wounded, to a Tokarev gun that Coulibaly carried at the kosher market on Friday.
News that all three suspects were known to French intelligence also came as a video circulated on the Internet on Sunday depicting a man appearing to be Coulibaly pledging allegiance to Islamic State and its self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-baghdadi. In the video, Coulibaly, who appears in front of a small Islamic State flag, indicated that he synchronized his actions with the Kouachi brothers. In the video, he is seen exercising outdoors near a brick building, followed by shots of automatic weapons, pistols and ammunition laid out on a wooden floor. Coulibaly also describes the Charlie Hebdo attackers as his “brothers” and states that he gave them money to finish purchasing supplies. Sources have indicated that Islamic State is responsible for releasing the video, which adds further evidence of a possible connection between the terrorist attacks and the radical terrorist group that has taken over large areas of land in Syria and Iraq. Coulibaly’s mother and sisters have condemned his actions, stating, “we hope there will not be any confusion between these odious acts and the Muslim religion.”
US on Alert
On Monday, the New York City Police Department along with other law enforcement personnel responded to a threat from ISIS after someone re-released a September 2014 message that tells followers to “rise up and kill intelligence offices, police offices, soldiers and civilians.” Officials in the US however have noted that they are currently not aware of any specific threats to the US.
Also on Monday, Turkey’s state-run Anatolian News Agency citied Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stating that the wanted partner of one of the gunmen behind the terror attack in France, was in Turkey five days before the killings, adding that she crossed the border into Syria on 8 January.
In the wake of the two hostage crises on Friday, French authorities launched a search for 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene after French anti-terrorist police killed her partner Amedy Coulibaly. On its website, Anatolian cited Turkey’s Foreign Minister as stating in an interview that she had arrived in Istanbul from Madrid on 2 January. According to Cavusoglu, “there is footage (of her) at the airport. Later on, she stayed at a hotel with another person and crossed into Syria on January 8. We can tell that based on telephone records.” Cavusoglu stated that the 26-year-old, who married Coulibaly in an Islamic ceremony, stayed at a hotel in Kadikoy in Istanbul and was accompanied by another person. She then moved onto the south-eastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa and then to Syria however Turkish authorities have not clarified whether she travelled to Syria on her own. Contrary to earlier speculation that she had been involved in the Paris killings, those dates would effectively put Boumeddiene in Turkey before the attacks in Paris, leaving for Syria while the attackers were still on the loose. Cavusoglu indicated that as soon as Turkey had determined the whereabouts of Boumeddiene, it passed the information to French authorities. Interior Minister Efkan Ala has indicated that Turkey received no request to deny access to Boumeddiene, stating “the entry of individuals to Turkey could be blocked based on information from the originating countries saying this person’s entry could be problematic.” Sources have indicated that Turkey did not arrest Boumeddiene because of a lack of timely intelligence from France. While western countries have long accused Turkey of not doing enough to stem the flow of jihadists who are seeking to join Islamic State fighters in neighbouring Syria, Ankara has insisted that it has now stepped up frontier security, noting that the West also has a responsibility to share intelligence.
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.
25 November– In an overnight operation, Yemeni Special Forces freed eight hostages who had been held by a group tied to al-Qaeda in Lahji province, Southern Yemen. Seven of the kidnappers were reportedly killed in the operation.
Sources state that seven Yemeni nationals were released, along with an eighth foreign national. The Yemeni Supreme Security Committee did not disclose the nationality of the foreign hostage. Sources suggest the victim was a US military instructor who worked at al-Anad Air Base, nearly 37 miles north of Aden. However senior US defence officials have denied these reports. In 2012, the US resumed on-the-ground military training in an attempt to arm Yemeni security forces in the fight against al Qaeda. It is believed that the rescue operation took place near the base. One member of the Yemeni Special Forces was lightly wounded in the mission.
Kidnapping has become increasingly common in Yemen. In recent years, Al Qaeda has taken advantage of the “hostage black market” in which they outsource the seizing of hostages to regional tribes, gangs or affiliates, who are in turn, paid a commission. This practice has been used by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, which is regarded as one of the most active al Qaeda branches in the world. AQAP has been known to work with local tribes that abduct victims for financial benefit. Al Qaeda collects the hostages and seeks to negotiate for ransom. Further, political kidnapping has occurred in instances where tribesmen kidnap victims in an attempt to resolve disputes with the government.
Meanwhile, a potential security breach has been reported at the US Embassy in Yemen. A corrupt worker is believed to have taken bribes and processed as many as 50 fraudulent visas, allowing applicants to enter the United States with falsified documents. The documents claim that the applicants were to travel to Houston for an oil industry conference. The State Department investigation reveals that the oil companies listed on the applications were fictitious, and none of the applicants attended the ‘Offshore Technology Conference’ after travelling to the US. The whereabouts of the Yemeni nationals are unknown. Further, the true purpose of their entry to the US is unclear; speculation ranges from attempts to conduct terrorist operations in the US, to fleeing from a war torn nation. It is unknown whether the entrants pose a risk to national security.
The visas were issued at the US embassy in Sana’a. A legal complaint lists a single defendant, who was discovered working in a grocery store in the Bronx, New York. He has been arrested on fraud charges and is held without bail.
According to a new report into international terrorism released this week, the number of deaths caused by terrorism increased by 61% between 2012 and 2013.
The 2014 Global Terrorism Index has revealed that in 2013, there were nearly 10,000 terrorist attacks globally, which represents a 44% increase from the previous year. Over the past year, 17958 people died from terrorist attacks, with the largest increase in deaths primarily due to the on-going civil war in Syria, which began in 2011. Of this number, 14,7222, or 80% of the total of deaths, occurred in just five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. India, Somalia, the Philippines, Yemen and Thailand were the next five, accounting for between 1% and 2.3% of global deaths due to terrorism.
According to the report, which is produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), 66% of all deaths from terrorist attacks in 2012 were due to four main terrorist groups: Islamic State, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Boko Haram. Iraq was the country that was most affected by terrorism in 2013, with more than 6,000 people dying. The report notes that “not only is the intensity of terrorism increasing, its breadth is increasing as well.”
The report, which also investigates terrorism between 2000 and 2013, indicated that while Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries only experienced 5% of all deaths from terrorism since 2000, the report did note that these countries suffered some of the deadliest attacks that have been carried out over the past thirteen years. This includes the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States; the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, Spain; the 2005 London bombings and the 2012 bombing and shooting attack that occurred in Norway. In 2013, Turkey and Mexico were the OECD countries that had the highest number of deaths from terrorism, 57 and 40 respectively.