Country Report on Terrorism 2011 - Chapter 2 - Yemen


Overview:   Yemen experienced significant political instability throughout the year, which reduced the Yemeni government's ability to address potential terrorist safe havens. Yemeni security forces struggled to project power beyond Sanaa and other major cities, which allowed al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other extremist groups to expand their influence in Yemen.

AQAP suffered significant losses in 2011, including the deaths of AQAP leader Anwar al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan, Ammar al-Wa'ili, and hundreds of militants and their commanders in Abyan. The Yemeni government launched large-scale operations against AQAP in the country's south, including the deployment of U.S.-trained and equipped counterterrorism forces. Despite successes in disrupting some operations, AQAP has continued to carry out attacks against Yemeni government targets , foreigners, and the Houthi movement in the north.

2011 Terrorist Incidents: AQAP carried out attacks throughout Yemen, using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), ambushes, and car bombs against government, civilian, and foreign targets, particularly in the south. The list below does not include all of the almost daily engagements that began in May between entrenched AQAP fighters in and around the Abyan governorate cities of Zinjibar and Ja'ar, and Yemeni security forces.  Attacks included:     

  • On January 2, three soldiers were injured when AQAP fighters used heavy weapons to attack the Central Security Forces headquarters in Shabwa governorate's Ataq district.
  • On January 7, AQAP militants ambushed two military convoys en route to Lawder in Abyan governorate. The militants fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and machine guns, killing an estimated 15 to 20 soldiers, including the Lawder brigade commander. On January 17, suspected AQAP militants in Shabwa's Azzan district assassinated Colonel Atiq al Amri, a high-ranking security officer in the Ministry of the Interior's Criminal Investigation Division.
  • On February 17, suspected AQAP militants assassinated Colonel Mohamed al Ezzy, Yemen's Political Security Organization's Deputy Director for Hadramaut, as he drove through the city of Mukalla.
  • On March 5, AQAP militants killed four Yemeni soldiers during an ambush in the al Rudha district of Marib. On the same day, suspected AQAP militants also assassinated Colonel Abdulhamid al Sharaabi in Zinjibar and Colonel Shayef al Shuaibi in Sayun, Hadramawt.
  • On March 8, Yemeni intelligence officer Mohammed Ali Samegha survived an assassination attempt carried out by suspected AQAP militants in Abyan.
  • On March 27, Islamist militants seized an arms factory outside of Jaar in Abyan governorate.  The next day, a large explosion in the factory killed an estimated 150 people.
  • In late March, an IED was detonated on a road in Hadramaut, targeting a passing car containing an expat employee of a Western company. No one was injured.
  • On April 11, two suspected AQAP militants on a motorcycle shot and killed Yemeni intelligence officer Colonel Hussein Gharma in Lawder.
  • On April 27, suspected AQAP militants used RPGs to attack a military vehicle at the Masameer checkpoint near Zinjibar, killing two Yemeni soldiers and wounding five others. On the same day, suspected AQAP militants kidnapped an intelligence officer in Lawder.
  • On May 2, in Sayun, Hadramawt, at least four soldiers were killed and four more wounded when suspected AQAP militants attacked a government patrol guarding the regional telecommunications headquarters. In Zinjibar, three soldiers were killed and five others injured when suspected AQAP militants attacked a government complex.
  • In late May, AQAP fighters and affiliated militants entered Zinjibar and quickly took control of much of the city.
  • In late May, three French aid workers based in Sayun, Hadramaut, were kidnapped by AQAP members. They were eventually released in mid-November.
  • On June 7, a heavily armed suspected AQAP member shot and killed a colonel and a sergeant of the Saudi border guards and injured another during an attempt to illegally cross into Saudi Arabia's Najran province from Yemen's Sa'ada governorate. The AQAP suspect was killed after he opened fire on the Saudi border guards when they tried to stop him.
  • On June 15, a police officer was killed and six others were wounded when dozens of suspected AQAP militants attacked security and government buildings at dawn in the town of Huta in Lahij governorate.
  • On July 20, a UK citizen working as a maritime security contractor was killed when his booby-trapped car exploded in the Mu'alla neighborhood of Aden.  AQAP was suspected in the attack, marking the first AQAP victim from outside the region since the killing of South Korean tourists in Hadramaut in early 2009. 
  • On August 15, AQAP members bombed a Houthi meeting in the town of Matama in al Jawf governorate. AQAP claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued on September 12.
  • On October 5, suspected AQAP militants planted a roadside bomb near a checkpoint controlled by pro-government tribesmen in Lawder, killing two tribesmen and injuring seven others.
  • On October 15, AQAP fighters attacked the liquid natural gas (LNG) pipeline that links the gas fields in Marib to a LNG plant in the city of Belhaf in Shabwah. The attack disrupted the gas flow and caused a large fire.
  • On October 28, Colonel Ali al Hajji, a leading counterterrorism official in Aden, was killed by an IED.
  • On November 9, suspected AQAP gunmen riding on a motorbike opened fire on a security patrol, killing at least two policemen and injuring three others on a coastal road in Mukalla. On the same day, Said Ashal, a Yemeni political activist and outspoken critic of AQAP, was the target of a VBIED attack while he was shopping in Mudiyah, Abyan.  He survived the attack.
  • On November 10, a landmine planted by suspected AQAP militants exploded, killing two soldiers from the 119th brigade in Zinjibar.

Legislation and Law Enforcement: The opposition walked out of Parliament in November 2010, and the body did not reconvene until December 2011.  Accordingly, no progress was made on a package of counterterrorism laws first introduced in 2008.  As a result, the Yemeni government lacked a clear legal framework for prosecuting terrorism-related crimes, often having to resort to charging suspects with “membership in an armed gang,” which hampered law enforcement efforts. 

The Yemeni government continued to face legal, political, and logistical hurdles, hindering effective detention and rehabilitation programming for Guantanamo returnees. The government also lacked a legal framework to hold former Guantanamo detainees for more than a short period of time. 

There were a number of arrests of terrorist suspects in 2011, primarily in the south of Yemen. However, the almost complete paralysis of the Yemeni justice system during the political unrest that gripped the country for most of the year, left many traditional law enforcement counterterrorism responsibilities to the Yemeni military.

Countering Terrorism Finance: Yemen is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. In January 2010, Yemen enacted its first comprehensive anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing (AML/CTF) law, however little progress was made with its implementation, because of political instability.  As a result, the overall regulatory environment hindered AML/CTF work, with 11 different ministries involved in the issue and limited coordination between them.  Yemen was publicly identified by the FATF in February 2010 for strategic AML/CTF deficiencies and committed to an action plan with the FATF to address these weaknesses. In October 2011, the FATF determined that Yemen's progress in implementing this action plan had been insufficient and that it needed to take adequate action to address its main deficiencies. There were concerns about bulk cash smuggling, because of lax enforcement by custom officials of the Yemeni law requiring travelers to report any amount of money over U.S. $15,000 brought into or out of the country. There were also reliable reports of Yemeni banks shipping suitcases of money out of the country on commercial flights because they were unable to make wire transfers to regional banks.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, we refer you to the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes:

Regional and International Cooperation: The Government of Yemen was largely focused on internal political issues and did not match its past limited regional and international engagement on counterterrorism.

Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism:   Official media published messages from President Saleh and other high-level officials and opinion leaders denigrating violent extremism and AQAP. At the same time, opposition figures, some of whom are now members of the new National Consensus Government, also publicly discussed their commitment to combating AQAP and other violent extremist groups. However, Yemeni government messaging often intentionally blurred the line between terrorist organizations and political opposition groups, regularly making unsubstantiated claims that the opposition, particularly the Islamist Islah party, had ties to AQAP. The government also often identified the Hirak or Southern Mobility Movement and the Houthi movement in the north as “violent extremist” organizations.