Gulf of Aden Security Review
A regularly updated review of both Yemen and the Horn of Africa covering topics related to security, governance, and militant activity.
Yemen: Violent crackdown on protests in Aden; Sana’a protests continue, at least eight protestors injured in clashes with pro-Saleh demonstrators; tens of thousands gather in Taiz; protests break out in al Hudaydah, Hawta, and al Shiher; al Houthis rally in support of anti-government protests; five people killed during arrest of AQAP leader; Saleh urges opposition to engage in dialogue, condemns “virus” that is behind unrest; Saleh heads meeting of the National Defense Council; exiled Southern Movement leaders call for protestors to unite; Interior Ministry denies allegations that plainclothes police have infiltrated protests; Southern Movement leader arrested; Saleh meets with local leaders in Amran governorate; EU condemns violent repression of protestors; AQAP online magazine analyzes WikiLeaks
Horn of Africa: Al Shabaab suicide bombers detonate truck bomb at Mogadishu police camp, killing at least fifteen people; U.S. forces board hijacked yacht after pirates kill four U.S. hostages; fighting between al Shabaab militants and AMISOM and TFG forces kills at least 25 people in Mogadishu, including six foreign jihadists; at least 13 people die in clashes between Somaliland soldiers and SSC militants; TFG soldier kills two civilians at food distribution center; hundreds protest against arrest of former Mogadishu mayor; TFG president praises TFG soldiers; pirates agree to pay tax to al Shabaab; al Shabaab issues four communiqués, announcing graduation of fighters, distribution of aid, results of Mogadishu clashes, and punishment of thief
Yemen Security Brief
- Thousands of protestors demonstrated in Aden, calling for an end to Saleh’s rule. Security forces fired into the air to disperse crowds. Medics report a total of 12 dead since February 16, while the government reports only four deaths. Witnesses reported that several thousands of demonstrators clashed with security forces on February 21 and that at least one person was killed and four others injured when security forces opened fire. An official said a group of protestors were throwing stones at a security vehicle in Khormaksar district, which is when the shots were fired.
- Protests continued in Sana’a as students and anti-regime demonstrators continued to gather near Sana’a University. One student was shot in the neck by a man in civilian clothing, and remains hospitalized. Reuters reported that four other anti-government demonstrators were injured by gunfire, and three more people were wounded when pro-Saleh supporters threw stones. Demonstrators told the Yemen Times that pro-Saleh activists had been paid to assault demonstrators with stones and batons. Two MPs from the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) resigned in protest against the violent repression of protestors and journalists. The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) called on their supporters to join student protests and demand that Saleh step down. Thousands of people have since joined the students and are conducting a sit-in outside of Sana’a University. On February 22, anti-government protestors discovered a car containing weapons belonging to pro-Saleh supporters and set the vehicle on fire.
- Tens of thousands have gathered in Taiz to continue their protests. Witnesses report that in the town of al Maafer, in Taiz governorate, armed men fired at protestors, injuring three. A 28-year old man died of wounds suffered during a February 18 grenade attack on an anti-government protest in Taiz.
- Protests spread to the city of al Hudaydah, where three protestors were injured in skirmishes with pro-Saleh demonstrators. In Hawta, the capital of Lahij governorate, three people were wounded when security forces fired tear gas and live rounds at demonstrators, who later burned and looted a government building. Anti-government demonstrators in the town of Karish blocked the road between Taiz and Aden for several hours. In the town of al Shiher in Hadramawt governorate, nearly 5,000 demonstrators rallied against Saleh’s regime.
- Thousands of al Houthi supporters in Sa’ada governorate demonstrated in support of anti-government protests across Yemen. Dhaifullah al Shami, a spokesman for the al Houthis, promised that the al Houthis would continue to support anti-government demonstrations until President Saleh was ousted.
- Ali Naji al Zaidi, governor of Ma’rib governorate, announced that security personnel arrested al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Mohamed Abdullah Maouda while he was en route to Shabwah province. Soldiers at a checkpoint stopped the car in which Maouda was travelling, leading to a shootout that killed five people before Maouda was apprehended.
- President Saleh spoke to reporters and dignitaries in Sana’a and called on opposition leaders to accept his invitation to engage in political dialogue. Saleh complained that “the more concessions we provide, the more demands they ask for,” and said that “we provided a package of reforms, but the JMP, in particular, increased the ceiling of their demand to topple the regime which is unacceptable.” Saleh also thanked security personnel for their restraint in dealing with demonstrators, and expressed regret for the recent violence in the city of Aden. CNN quoted Saleh as saying, “this is a virus and is not part of our heritage or the culture of the Yemeni people. It’s a virus that came from Tunisia to Egypt. And to some regions, the scent of the fever is like influenza. As soon as you sit with someone who is infected, you’ll be infected.”
- President Saleh presided over a meeting of the National Defense Council. The meeting addressed growing unrest across Yemen, and the council cautioned that “saboteurs are trying to take advantage of the peaceful democracy here to implement their destructive schemes and coup against democracy and the constitution.”
- Several Southern Movement leaders living in exile, including Ali Nasser Mohamed, issued a statement calling for Southern Movement demonstrators to unite with other anti-government protestors, and urged the government peacefully acquiesce to the protestor’s demands.
- The Yemeni Interior Ministry issued a statement denying that plainclothes security personnel had been deployed to control demonstrations across Yemen, claiming that “these fabrications are baseless and aim at insulting the security services.”
- Security personnel arrested Southern Movement leader Hassan Baoum after Baoum was rushed to hospital in Aden after suffering a heart attack.
- President Saleh’s personal website reported that Saleh met with local leaders in Amran governorate and thanked them for their support during recent unrest. Saleh emphasized that democracy is the only legitimate avenue to reform, and local leaders agreed, pledging to maintain their support for his administration.
- The EU Delegation to Yemen issued a statement saying that “The EU strongly condemns the use of violence against peaceful protestors and calls for the Yemeni authorities to immediately halt attacks by security forces and armed pro-government groups on peaceful protestors and journalists and avoid any escalation.”
- The 16th issue of AQAP’s Arabic-language magazine, Sada al Malahem (Echo of the Epics), released on jihadist forums February 15, included an analysis of WikiLeaks cables, authored by Tamim al Muhajir, who concluded that “these documents didn’t bring anything new in terms of content. Rather, what is new is that the information came out faster and through a new window. Rulers are rulers and agents are agents, and the history of treason with them is as old as Lawrence of Arabia.”
Horn of Africa Security Brief
- Al Shabaab militants detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device in a suicide attack on a police camp in the Hamar Jabjab district of Mogadishu, killing at least fifteen people, including the four bombers, one of whom was a woman. Abdullahi Hassan Barise, spokesman of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) police in Mogadishu, said that a soldier at the camp gate fired on the truck when it refused to stop, forcing the attackers to detonate their explosives prematurely, adding that “if they had entered the camp there would have been much bigger loss.” TFG deputy Prime Minister Abirahman Haji Aden told reporters gathered at Medina Hospital that the complexity of the attack suggested al Qaeda involvement, explaining that “this brutal attack of al Shabaab demonstrates the terrorist’s cruelty and cowardly act, which is their standard operating practice. Whenever they are defeated in the battlefield, they attack soft targets.” TFG Minister for Information, Posts, and Telecommunications, Abdulkareem Jama, concurred, saying “This is [a] cowardly act. Extremists always attack soft targets when they lose in the battlefield.” Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, issued a statement through her spokesperson, condemning the attack.
- U.S. forces boarded the hijacked vessel (S/V) Quest after hearing gunfire and discovered that all four U.S. hostages had been killed. Two pirates were killed during the operation, thirteen were arrested, and the bodies of two other pirates were found aboard, leading CENTCOM to believe that nineteen pirates were involved. Minutes before U.S. forces boarded the ship, a pirate claiming to be friends with the hijackers told the Associated Press by phone that “the hostages will be the first to go” if the yacht was attacked. The Americans were on an international sailing trip distributing Bibles when they were attacked while sailing nearly 300 miles off the coast of Somalia. The pirates had announced that they intended to sail to Somalia, and U.S. officials estimated that the yacht was no more than two days away from the coast.
- Four days of fighting in Mogadishu between AMISOM and TFG soldiers and al Shabaab militants left at least 25 people dead. The majority of the fighting took place in the Hodan and Hawl Wadag districts, but stray artillery shells landed across Mogadishu, including one which hit a civilian bus in Bakara Market, killing at least two people. AMISOM spokesman Major Barigye Bahuko claimed that AMISOM forces killed six foreign fighters, including militants from Yemen, Pakistan, India and Kenya. Al Shabaab's military spokesman, Abdul Aziz Abu Mus'ab, denied that any foreign fighters had been killed, and claimed that several AMISOM and TFG soldiers had defected to al Shabaab during the fighting.
- Somaliland soldiers and militants from the Sool, Sanaag and Cayn (SSC) administration clashed near the village of Maygaagle in the district of Buhoodle over the course of two days, leaving at least thirteen people dead. Shabelle Media Network reported that the fighting began when Somaliland soldiers launched a surprise attack on SSC forces, adding that both sides were believed to have taken prisoners.
- Shabelle Media Network reported that a TFG soldier shot and killed two people during a stampede for food at an aid station in Mogadishu.
- Hundreds of people in Mogadishu protested against the arrest of Mohamed Dhere, the former mayor of Mogadishu accused of involvement in the shooting of civilians at an anti-al Shabaab protest. The demonstrators threw stones at the presidential building and burnt tires, leading TFG guards at the presidential building to open fire on the protestors. No casualties have been reported.
- TFG President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed spoke to TFG soldiers assembled at Halane military base in Mogadishu and announced that TFG forces were making good progress in their push against al Shabaab and had reduced the extremist group to its “weakest time.”
- Somali pirates based in the town of Harardhere agreed to pay twenty percent of all future ransoms to al Shabaab after al Shabaab fighters released several pirate leaders who had been arrested last week. A pirate who identified himself as Ali told Reuters that “our relationship with al Shabaab has improved,” adding that “we are happy because we have no other alternatives than agreeing with al Shabaab demands for us to maintain Harardhere as our base.”
- Al Shabaab issued four communiqués through its media arm, al Kata'ib Foundation for Media Production. The first, issued February 17, announced the graduation of a “large number of commanders” in the Lower Shabelle region. The second release, issued February 21, described the distribution of 250 sacks of wheat and 500 gallons of oil to needy civilians in the Banadir region. The third communiqué, also issued February 21, detailed the success of al Shabaab fighters in repelling an AMISOM and TFG attack in Mogadishu and included pictures of the dead bodies of AMISOM and TFG soldiers. The fourth communiqué, also issued February 21, announced that a thief accused of stealing a mobile phone and $30 worth of goods in the Lower Shabelle region suffered the amputation of his hand as punishment.