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: AQAP's Ansar al Sharia denies involvement in attack on Aden nursing home; gunmen assassinate al Tawahi district police chief in Aden; Hadi and Saleh representatives meet with tribal leaders in Sana’a districts; international banks cut credit for exports to Yemen; UN human rights office reports marked increase in civilian casualties
Horn of Africa: U.S. airstrike kills dozens of al Shabaab militants in El Dibi, Hiraan region; al Shabaab IED explodes at airport security checkpoint in Beledweyne, Hiiraan region, Somalia; AMISOM and SNA troops arrest al Shabaab commander in Qoryooley, Lower Shabelle region; Kenyan security forces arrest four fugitives attempting to join ISIS in Libya; Qatar grants asylum to former al Shabaab commander; Australian Navy frigate seizes arms-smuggling dhow bound for Somalia
Yemen Security Brief
- Ansar al Sharia, the insurgent arm of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), denied involvement in the March 4 attack on a home for the elderly in Aden. The group emphasized that the attack did not reflect its priorities, which it described as supporting the oppressed and standing with the Muslim community against its enemies. Four gunmen invaded the home and executed 16 individuals, including four Catholic nuns from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. The gunmen also reportedly kidnapped an Indian priest, Father Tom Uzhunnalil. Pope Francis condemned the attack as “diabolical” and described the nuns as modern-day martyrs. Sources in Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s administration attributed the attack to the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), though the group has not claimed the attack.
- Gunmen assassinated Colonel Salem al Milqat, police chief of Aden’s al Tawahi district, and one of his aides on March 5 in al Mansoura district, Aden. The gunmen targeted al Milqat’s vehicle as it passed through the Caltex roundabout, the scene of several assassinations and clashes in recent months. Militants from groups including AQAP and the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) maintain a presence in al Tawahi district, for which al Milqat was responsible. Al Milqat is the latest in a string of security officials assassinated in Yemen’s temporary capital.
- Major players from both sides of Yemen’s civil war are courting the support of Sana’a governorate’s tribes, as forces aligned with President Hadi make small gains in the districts surrounding the capital. Lieutenant General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, recently appointed Deputy to the Supreme Commander of the Yemeni Armed Forces by President Hadi, met with tribal leaders in the districts of Bani Matar, al Haymah, Bilad al Rus, Hamdan, and Sanhan, his birthplace and the birthplace of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh meanwhile reportedly sent representatives to meet with tribal leaders in Hamdan, several of whom pledged their allegiance to Saleh, who is allied with the al Houthi rebels. Tribal support is essential to the battle for Yemen’s capital.[3
- International financial institutions are cutting lines of credit for traders shipping goods to Yemen, according to Reuters. The lack of available credit creates new obstacles for exporters, who must also worry about the security of their cargo amid ongoing instability at Yemen’s major ports. The ongoing crisis also prompted Yemen’s Central Bank to cut subsidized lines of credit for certain staple imports in February. The credit squeeze may contribute to further reductions in imports, which Yemen’s population relies on for more than 90% of its staple foods.[4
- A new United Nations report highlights a significant increase in civilian casualties in Yemen over the past month. The report attributes civilian casualties both to coalition airstrikes and indiscriminate shelling by al Houthi forces and forces loyal to former president Saleh. The number of civilian casualties in February was nearly double the count for January and the highest since September 2015, according to the UN. More than 3,000 civilians have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded since the beginning of the Saudi-led air campaign in March 2015.[5
Horn of Africa Security Brief
- The U.S. conducted an airstrike on an al Shabaab camp at El Dibi village near Bulo-Baarde in Somalia’s Hiiraan region on March 6. The strike killed an estimated 150 militants, according to Pentagon spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis. Davis said that the strike was authorized because the militant group was preparing for a major offensive in the area. Another defense official said that militants were conducting a ceremony at the time of the strike. Al Shabaab has not confirmed the strike.[6
- Al Shabaab militants detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) hidden inside luggage or a laptop computer in the security screening area of the Beledweyne Airport in central Somalia’s Hiraan region on March 7, injuring at least four people and killing two Djiboutian peacekeepers. A Somali police spokesperson claimed that two other devices, one of which was hidden in a printer ink cartridge, were discovered and defused. Sources also said that the plane for which the screening was being conducted was bound for Mogadishu. Al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack and said that it targeted the Djiboutian forces, though it is possible that the bomb was intended to explode on the plane. The attack comes one a month after an al Shabaab militant detonated a laptop-borne IED on a Daallo Airlines flight from Mogadishu’s Aden Adde airport. 
- African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali National Army (SNA) troops arrested a senior al Shabaab commander in Qoryooley in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region. An SNA spokesperson said that Mohammed Ali Gele, who supervised the militant group’s operations in Qoryooley and Janaale, was arrested after a lengthy security operation.
- Kenyan security forces arrested four men attempting to travel to Libya to join ISIS in Busia, Busia County, Kenya on March 6. Kenyan security forces previously detained the suspects under suspicion of plotting a terror attack in the city of Mombasa, Kenya, but they fled the city when released on bail. Kenyan Anti-Terror Police also claim to have identified a cell of recruiters working for ISIS in Kenya who lure university students into joining the group with the promise of high-paying jobs.
- Qatar granted asylum to former al Shabaab commander Mohammed Said Atom on March 6 after he fled Somalia for Doha, Qatar last month. Atom left the country despite being given amnesty by the Somali Federal Government (SFG) in June 2014 after leaving al Shabaab. He has since asked for forgiveness from his fellow Somalis and denied that he had committed any war crimes during his time with the militant group. Atom commanded an al Shabaab cell in the Galgala Mountains of northern Somalia and often fought against Puntland security forces while maintaining a profitable arms trade in the region.
- The HMAS Darwin, an Australian Navy frigate, intercepted a Somalia-bound fishing dhow carrying a large shipment of weapons in international waters off the coast of Oman on March 7. The shipment, whose origin and specific destination are unknown, contained at least 1500 AK-47 assault rifles, 20 mortars and 100 rocket-propelled grenades and had a black market value of more than $2 million dollars.