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:Yemen’s government lost control of six governorates; Saleh made a new power transition offer to the opposition; elite American-trained Yemeni counterterrorism forces withdrew from Abyan; key Yemeni opposition figure asks for Western intervention in Yemen; large protests continue in Yemen’s capital and in major cities; Islamists and tribal rebels clash while both attended a demonstration in Sana’a; AQAP released fifth issue of English-language magazine, Inspire; potential radical Islamist sought passage to Yemen’s Abyan governorate on a jihadist forum
Horn of Africa: Al Shabaab captured 50 Somali pirates; Somaliland established maximum security prison to intern pirates; UN rejected Somalia’s government’s self-extended writ to govern for another year; AMISOM and local Somali security forces claim to control 75 percent of Mogadishu; AMISOM troops battle with al Shabaab gunmen: 15 people killed and 24 wounded; Doctors Without Borders suspended its medical operations in Somalia; the Indian Navy rescued 16 hostages and arrested 16 Somali pirates
Yemen Security Brief
- Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh informed a committee of the country’s ruling party that the central government had lost control of six of Yemen’s 18 governorates to northern al Houthi rebels and southern al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) forces and Saleh withdrew his offer to resign. “Six of the Yemen’s [sic] 18 provinces had fallen,” Saleh declared, citing the need to arrest Yemen’s descent into chaos as his primary motivation for retaining power.
- At a meeting between the ruling party and the Islah party, Saleh proposed that he remain in office until presidential elections are held, but proposed allowing the opposition to begin forming its own cabinet. An opposition spokesman said that Saleh’s offer that the opposition “pick a head of government of its own choosing and [hold] parliamentary elections by the end of the year” was still being mulled over within opposition circles.
- Yemen’s elite, U.S.-trained counterterrorism forces have withdrawn from Abyan, an AQAP and secessionist stronghold, effectively ceding control. Western analysts believe that Saleh is demonstrating the effects his resignation would have to the United States and Saudi Arabia. Analysts also do not believe Saleh’s elite forces were routed, pointing to a deliberate move on the part of the president: “Yemen’s elite American-trained counterterrorism units have been stationed in Abyan for months. For some reason they have been pulled out. It is ridiculous to think these elite units could not have held off an ill-equipped al Qaeda advance.”
- Sheikh Hamid al Ahmar, a key leader within the Hashid tribe and member of a Yemeni opposition party, challenged Western countries to take a more active role in ousting President Ali Abdullah Saleh. “I think that the international community, the United States and the Europeans, should stand firmly with the Yemeni nation,” he said. Making the case for a Western intervention, Hamid al Ahmar noted the Western concern with Yemen’s role in the war on terror and argued that a post-Saleh Yemen would be able to contain AQAP as well as the current regime does. He further suggested that Egypt-style pressure on Saleh would be enough to oust Saleh as well as “buy the friendship of the Yemeni nation.”
- Protests continued in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital city. Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis throughout the country took to the streets in Sana’a, Ma’rib and Sa’ada protesting the factory explosion in the Abyan governorate on March 28th that killed over 150.
- Al Houthi protestors clashed with protestors from the Islamist Islah (reform) opposition party at a broadly inclusive demonstration in Tagheer (Change) Square outside Sana’a University. Both parties drew jambiyah, a traditional Yemeni dagger, and began to fight. Some witnesses claim that the fight originated in an ideological dispute between two members that escalated; others said that the al Houthis accused Islah of dominating the political discourse in the opposition. An eyewitness said that al Houthi and Islah leaders met afterwards and agreed that “ideological disputes should be put outside.”
- AQAP released Inspire, the fifth issue of its English-language magazine, on jihadist forums, Radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki described al Qaeda’s reaction to the political revolutions that are threatening or have overthrown Arab governments as elated in his featured article. In a piece dedicated to describing the political changes sweeping the Middle East as “The Tsunami of Change,” Awlaki writes, “The mujahidin around the world are going through a moment of elation and I wonder whether the West is aware of the upsurge of mujahidin activity in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Arabia, Algeria, and Morocco?” AQAP’s military commander, Qasim al Raymi, was featured in an interview published in the magazine and Samir Khan, credited with leading the production of the magazine, also had an article published in Inspire.
- A radical Islamist sought advice on a jihadist forum on crossing the border into Yemen’s Abyan governorate, where al Qaeda captured four towns between March 20 and March 28 and, according to Yemeni authorities, set an explosive trap at a munitions factory that killed over 150. The potential jihadist described his desire to be spearheading al Qaeda expansion in Abyan, saying, “We want to be amongst the foremost, not with the ones who stay behind.” Others on the forum said that entry into the Arabian Peninsula was extremely difficult, while others offered advice on how to fool Yemeni security at the airport: “Wear what you can wear of jeans, pans, reflective sunglasses, and carry a cigarette in hand and smile.” Thanking the contributors, the original jihadist added, “In addition, I’m thinking of robbing ‘bank money’ before I depart for there. (smile).”
Horn of Africa Security Brief
- Al Shabaab captured 50 Somali pirates in Harardhere, a coastal town in central Somalia. Residents reported that a group of heavily armed pirates are planning a raid to free their brethren: “we have heard a heavily armed group of pirates are now heading the town [sic] to free their companions.” In response, al Shabaab fighters armed with light and heavy machine guns and accompanied by military vehicles have established a perimeter and checkpoints within and around Harardhere.
- Somaliland has officially unveiled a $1.5 million maximum-security prison in its capital, Hargeisa, designed to repatriate and incarcerate Somaliland pirates. The UN provided the funding. “We can find countries to prosecute [the pirates],” explained Alan Cole, the counter-piracy coordinator of the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, “but no one wants non-nationals in their prisons for too long.” Somaliland will incarcerate Somaliland pirates, allowing Somaliland pirates held abroad to be deported to the facility in Hargeisa for incarceration. The facility, which has actually been opened for several weeks, currently houses 297 detainees, of which 88 are pirates from various regions of Somalia. The Somaliland Minister of Justice Ismail Aar has refused to continue to incarcerate Somali pirates from regions other than Somaliland, saying, “We accept Somaliland (nationals) to be transferred to Somaliland. Each territory should prosecute its own pirates.”
- The UN and the Somali Parliament both rejected the Somali Transitional Federal Government’s (TFG) declaration that it has extended its writ to govern by a year, beyond its UN-backed August mandate. “It won’t happen,” said parliamentarian Ali Farah Seeko, “[the cabinet] should seek a new mandate in August.” The UN Special Representative to Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said that the international community “doesn’t buy” the cabinet’s self-extension.
- The UN Special Representative to Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, reported that AMISOM and Somali security forces claim to have regained control of 75 percent of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, from al Shabaab forces.
- AMISOM troops stormed al Shabaab militia bases in the Bondhere district of Mogadishu. Somali officials reports that AMISOM troops killed five al Shabaab gunmen while witnesses on the scene report three AMISOM troops killed, ten civilians killed, and 15 others injured. In all, witnesses say that at least 15 people have been killed and 24 are wounded. The TFG disputes al Shabaab’s claim that al Shabaab militants burned an AMISOM tank.
- Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF) suspended all medical operations in Medina in Mogadishu after being hit by two grenade attacks on its compound in the same week. The latest grenade attack injured two guards. Joachim Delville, the head of the mission in Somalia, said that “MSF considers this a serious incident due to the direct attacks on MSF premises, which were aimed at causing heavy casualties and damages to MSF. As a result of this incident, all activities in Medina were immediately suspended for an indefinite period of time." Operations continue throughout other regions in Somalia.
- The Navy rescued 16 hostages from Iran and Pakistan and arrested 16 pirates. After a reconnaissance helicopter located the pirates, the Indian Navy exchanged fire with a pirate ship, setting the pirates’ oil canisters on fire and forcing the pirates and hostages to jump overboard.