As Yemen war drags on, AQAP sees opening to regroup

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

Yemeni soldiers gather at the site of a checkpoint where three policemen were killed in an al-Qaeda suicide attack in al-Bayda province, south of Sanaa, on March 13th, 2012. [AFP]

Yemeni soldiers gather at the site of a checkpoint where three policemen were killed in an al-Qaeda suicide attack in al-Bayda province, south of Sanaa, on March 13th, 2012. [AFP]

On the heels of its execution and crucifixion of a dentist in the Sawmaa district of Yemen's al-Bayda province, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) staged an attack on the district's health centre.

Al-Qaeda militants rigged the centre with explosives and blew it up from a distance on August 25th, 10 days after they killed dentist Motthar al-Youssoufi who worked at the same facility, according to local reports.

The centre was the main local facility, serving dozens of patients each day.

Yemen's Information Minister Muammar al-Eryani condemned the attack in an August 26th statement, noting that the Houthis (Ansarallah) have carried out similar attacks on public property and the private properties of their opponents.

These acts confirm that "while the Houthis and al-Qaeda differ in ideology, their methods and goals are the same: to establish a guardianship system and a caliphate, raise false slogans, recruit children, commit crimes and violations, accuse those who disagree with them of kufr, destroy infrastructure, and target international interests", he said.

In an earlier statement, on August 15th, al-Eryani stressed the government's commitment to expelling extremism and terrorism from al-Bayda and to restoring the state and consolidating security and stability.

Compounding people's suffering

With the execution of Dr. al-Youssoufi and the health centre bombing, al-Qaeda aimed to sow panic, asserting its presence through its acts of terrorism, Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.

The extremist group seeks to demonstrate a presence on the ground and warn people that these operations "are a prelude for more to come", he said.

Al-Qaeda's attacks are aimed at "destroying anything that gives people a sense of hope, such as schools and health centres", he said, pointing out that the group is targeting these critical facilities because "they help people".

The health centre bombing was a crime "against all residents of Sawmaa district and nearby areas, whose residents used to frequent the centre for treatment", said political analyst Faisal Ahmed.

The incident came as the UN warned that half of Yemen's health facilities would need to be closed if they do not receive critical funding within weeks, he told Al-Mashareq.

He noted that 50% of health sector facilities are already operating at minimum capacity because of the ongoing war in Yemen.

"Al-Qaeda is tampering with people's lives and fates by targeting service facilities," he said.

Achieving peace is key

Ahmed pointed to the presence of al-Qaeda-affiliated cells in al-Bayda and some other provinces, "where they are regrouping and laying plans, taking advantage of the non-implementation of the Riyadh Agreement".

In light of this threat, he added, "all local, Arab and international parties must be focused on its implementation".

The perpetration of two terrorist crimes in one area confirms "al-Qaeda is back on the scene", he said, noting that the attacks serve as an "invitation to the group's members to return and rejoin its ranks [so it can] resume its activities".

Information points to the presence of AQAP leader Khalid Saeed al-Batarfi in al-Bayda, Ahmed said.

Prior to this, the Yemeni army had been hunting down al-Qaeda elements for some time in the southern provinces, with the Arab coalition's support, he said.

"The varied and harsh natural terrain of the area between al-Bayda and Marib, and that between al-Bayda and Abyan, and also al-Bayda and Shabwa, provides the group suitable cover from which to resume its activities," Ahmed said.

Al-Qaeda's recent attacks shows it is "an anti-life death group", political analyst Adel al-Shujaa told Al-Mashareq.

"The group is taking advantage of the wars and chaos to reorganise its ranks," he said.

The crimes committed by al-Qaeda and ISIS in al-Bayda in 2020, included a March attack on a car that was carrying a man, his wife and daughter in al-Dahra area in al-Quraishiyah district. All three were killed in the attack.

And in May, al-Qaeda elements targeted the car of Ministry of Telecommunications engineers with an improvised explosive device (IED), killing them and injuring another person.

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