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April 26: The Day that Was

Every so often – say once or twice every few months – it really does seem, at least from the outside, as if Yemen is falling apart, and, gasp, could become a failed state – whatever that means. (The feeling on the ground is usually quite different.) Today was one of those days.

This morning a suicide bomber, identified as Uthman ‘Ali al-Salawi, attacked the British ambassador’s convoy. But more on that below.

We’ll start in the country’s far north, where News Yemen has a piece on the rising tensions between Yahya al-Huthi and Sayf al-Washali over who best represents the Huthis abroad.

Staying up North, the Huthis’ local representatives are accusing the government of attempting to kill the fragile true. According to unnamed sources in the Huthis’ camp an individual named Ibn ‘Aziz (yes, I know, very helpful) entered the al-Mahadhir Market southwest of the city of Sa’dah with a military escort and opened fire, injuring three shoppers. (For the full and very complicated story – of which there are many different versions read the above link.)

In the same Mareb Press story the Huthis suggest that the government is trying to instigate a series of revenge killings between the Huthis and local tribes in the region. According to the paper, all of this suggests a seventh war. So much for peace, or rather the absence of war.

Down south, but still related to the war in Sa’dah, a number of soldiers from Radfan staged a demonstration to secure their “rights,” which they argue include things like being paid, dealing with the families of their dead comrades killed in the war, helping recent retirees and those who have recently married.

The soldiers, at least according to the story, were careful to disassociate themselves from the Southern Movement and they also disputed government claims that they were deserters, claiming that they had been separated from their unit in the fog of war. The soldiers wore their military uniforms but carried their personal weapons. The demonstration when through downtown Habiylayn before paying honor to their fallen friends.

The pictures are telling, and I don’t think the government wants a bunch of trained (at least to some degree) and armed men angry with it. At the moment, they are still adhering to a traditional Yemeni method of seeking redress, let’s hope it lasts.

Also, in the south, Ali al-Qarmush, the head of security for the city of al-Baydha, was removed from his position and replaced by Colonel Muhammad al-‘Amari. The move reportedly came amidst a deteriorating security situation.

Now back to San’a, and more bad news. Quite separate from the attempted assassination this morning, the head of the JMP’s high council, ‘Abd al-Wahhab Mahmud, came under fire from unknown assailants this morning as he was riding in a car on Mujahid Street in San’a.

This brings us full circle back to the suicide attack on Britain’s ambassador to Yemen, Tim Torlot. The attack targeted Torlot’s convoy on his way to work in the new and heavily fortified British Embassy near the Movenpick. (Unfortunately, this is probably the only time Nuqum will be mentioned in the western press.)

The attacker is reportedly a 22-year-old from Taizz, who was a bit disconnected from society. He had been in and out of high schools, dropping out multiple times. There is still little that is known about his background, although I’m told that he was known to the security services. Not surprisingly, the government is conducting a series of raids in Hay Musayk, the neighborhood next to the US Embassy and below the British Embassy. This neighborhood has produced suicide bombers before – the attack on the Spanish tourists in 2007 – and that attacker also received training in Marib, just as the government is suggesting this one did.

(Incidentally, and possibly unrelated, a young Saudi was killed in Marib in a car crash today. There is no known link – nor does the article even suggest the possibility of one – but given where he died and his nationality the question at least has to be asked. That is, of course, one of the problems with security: everyone becomes suspect.)

This is not, as some analysts have said, the first time AQAP has attempted to assassinate an individual (Remember, Muhammad bin Nayyif?). What this attack means is, at the moment, difficult to tell. As I told Paul Stephens of the Global Post earlier today, what comes next will go a long way in determining how much damage the US and Yemen did to AQAP’s infrastructure in the past few months.

It is always the next piece of information that is the most important.

Certainly most AQAP’s national leaders have survived recent raids, although the organization did lose some regional figures, as well as a key safe house, which I believed served as a media hub for the organization. How extensive those losses were remains to be seen.

AQAP has consistently shown itself to be an incredibly resilient organization, capable of adapting to changing circumstances in Yemen.

This was not a particularly sophisticated or well-thought out strike.


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