The current terrorist crises in Yemen apparently began last month, when the U.S. intercepted messages from al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri to the head of AQAP (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) asking for some major attacks to be made in Yemen, especially against foreigners, in August. Zawahiri separately ordered al Qaeda members throughout the region to attack Western embassies and kidnap Westerners. That has led to most Western embassies in Yemen (and throughout the Middle East) to be shut down temporarily. Yemeni officials also expressed doubts that al Qaeda had enough manpower to make large scale attacks in Yemen or anywhere else. The al Qaeda plot thus smacks of desperation to Yemenis. The Yemen government also criticized the closure of so many Western embassies in Yemen and the evacuation of Western civilians.
AQAP, which formed in 2009, when al Qaeda was effectively driven out of Saudi Arabia after losing a war with the government triggered by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, has suffered heavy losses in the last year. AQAP was formed in 2009, after the remnants of the Saudi al Qaeda organization (several thousand full and part time members) fled to Yemen and merged with the Yemeni al Qaeda branch. AQAP also benefitted from hundreds of Iraqi al Qaeda members who arrived after the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007-8. Growing unrest in Yemen (against the long-time Saleh dictatorship) enabled AQAP to recruit locally and take over several towns in the south by 2011. Then the government launched a counteroffensive last year and AQAP got hurt very badly. That offensive continues, along with the growing use of American UAVs in Yemen. At the same time there are few other places for defeated al Qaeda men to flee to. The sanctuary in Mali was destroyed earlier in the year by a French led offensive. The sanctuary in Pakistan (North Waziristan) is hostile to al Qaeda and mainly for local Islamic terrorists. Surviving al Qaeda men are increasingly operating in isolation and under heavy attack. Sometimes, as is happening now in Syria, they attack each other. While the al Qaeda situation is desperate in Yemen, AQAP is now al Qaeda’s most capable branch. The U.S. did not reveal why Zawahiri wanted some action now. Yemen noted that the plot they had thwarted was not believed to be part of the broader al Qaeda plan to make a spectacular attack at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, to regain some respect in the Moslem world. The intercepted messages apparently contained discussions between Zawahiri and other al Qaeda leaders about the need to do something very media worthy to improve al Qaeda’s declining reputation in the Moslem world.
There have been five American UAV attacks in Yemen during the last two weeks, killing at least 24 terrorists. Most of these attacks have been in the southeast, where most al Qaeda are concentrated and where the terrorists have a lot of support from local tribesmen. American UAV attacks have grown in the past three years. In 2011, there were 18 attacks and 53 last year. This year there are, so far, even more.
August 7, 2013: The government says it uncovered and foiled an al Qaeda plot to seize control of three southeastern towns, Al Mukalla, Ghayl Bawazeer, and the oil export facilities near the port of Mukalla. The plan involved terrorists in army uniforms pretending to be demonstrating for more money and then to attack. In addition to taking control of two towns (at least until army reinforcements showed up) the attack on the oil facility would make it possible to seize foreign oil technicians and hold them as hostages. The attack was supposed to take place on the 5th, but was discovered and disrupted by raids and additional security measures two days earlier. Elsewhere in the southeast (Shabwa province) an American UAV killed seven terrorists.
August 6, 2013: Two U.S. military transports landed in Yemen to evacuate Americans there. This evacuation was ordered because U.S. intelligence believe al Qaeda has ordered an effort to kidnap as many Americans as possible as soon as possible.
In central Yemen tribesmen shot down a military helicopter which killed eight people on board. In the southeast (Marib province) an American UAV killed four terrorists.
August 5, 2013: The government released a list of 25 known al Qaeda operatives it believed were involved with a major terrorist plot. A reward of $23,000 was offered for information leading to the killing or capture of any of these suspects. At least one of these men was killed by an American UAV launched missile on the 6th.
In central Yemen (al Bayda province) an al Qaeda death squad killed an intelligence officer.
August 4, 2013: The U.S. announced an expansion of its recent terror alert and ordered the closure, until August 10th, of 19 embassies and consulates in the Middle East and North Africa. The U.S. and local governments increased security around American diplomatic facilities throughout the region.
August 2, 2013: In the capital a group of former soldiers, once members of the Republican Guard, attacked the presidential palace in an effort to get money they believe they are owed. One of the attackers was killed and at least six wounded and the attack failed. The Republican Guard consisted mainly of men loyal to former president Saleh, which was why the Republican Guard was disbanded.
August 1, 2013: In the capital terrorists attempted to kidnap a Saudi diplomat but failed. One of the bodyguards was killed.
July 30, 2013: In the southeast (Shabwa province) an American UAV killed three terrorists.
July 28, 2013: In the south (Abyan province) an American UAV killed six terrorists.
July 26, 2013: In the southern port city of Aden, an al Qaeda death squad killed a former senior government official.
July 25, 2013: On the Saudi border a Saudi border guard was killed while halting a vehicle that tried to enter Yemen illegally.