Al Qaeda targets tourists in Yemen as tensions intensify
Four South Koreans were killed and three other Yemenis were injured in an explosion in the City of Shibam, in the governorate of Hadramout.
Medical sources said that two of the injured Yemenis were drivers and the third one is a tourist guide and all the three are in critical condition. Local sources in Shibam said the explosion, likely to be a suicide bombing, happened when the tourists were touring the mountain of al-Khbah. Yemeni security sources noted that the explosion was a result of some explosives that were planted in the place of the explosion.
The Yemeni government accused Al Qaeda operatives of being behind the attack. Reports from the capital Sana’a indicated that the government forces have rounded-up up to 100 Al Qaeda suspects after setting up road-blocks in the capital.
Another suicide bombing targeted South Korean officials who subsequently arrived in Sana’a to investigate the original bombing. No injuries were reported.
In a separate incident, four security personnel were killed in clashes with suspected Al Qaeda militants near the capital of the former South Yemen, Aden.
(16 March 2009 and 27 March 2009)
Analysis and forecast (↑ increasing risk)
The explosion targeting tourists is an escalation of the Al Qaeda operations in Yemen. Al Qaeda in Yemen and Saudi Arabia have announced a merger last month in what was seen as an indication of the growing importance of Yemen to Al Qaeda. The recent attack is a manifestation of this. The Yemeni authorities have responded to the increased Al Qaeda threat by intensifying their efforts to round-up suspects. However, it is not clear whether the Yemeni government has the capability to fight Al Qaeda at times when its resources are stretched, with an increased likelihood of an sixth war in the Shiite-dominated Sa’ada region.
The danger Al Qaeda in Yemen poses goes beyond attacks in Yemen as the country would be used as a spring-board to launch attacks on neighbouring Saudi Arabia. With reports that Al Qaeda are setting up training camps in north Yemen (near the Shiite dominated Sa’ada region), close to the porous Saudi-Yemeni border, pressure is expected to mount on the Yemeni authorities to do more to reduce this threat. These reports add weight to recent remarks by a former Iranian intelligence officer that Iran is assisting Al Qaeda in Yemen.
Besides tensions in the north, the separate incident in the south indicates that Al Qaeda is not only a regional threat, but as demonstrated by recent events, is active countrywide. This makes it a more difficult force to fight than the more long-term threats the government has been facing with socialists based in the south and Shiites in the north.
The latest attack will also likely adversely affect the number of tourists visiting Yemen, at times when revenue from oil is rapidly dwindling. The overall impact is therefore increased economic pressure as well as a stretching of the security apparatus. This will lead to an increased likelihood of destabilizing the regime and the country’s unity, unless significant international aid is provided to Yemen.