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: UN Special Envoy presents ceasefire plan in Sana’a after convoy attack; DIA Director testifies on al Houthi-Saleh ballistic missile attack; kidnappers release Australian teacher in Sana’a; al Houthi-Saleh forces claim two ballistic missile strikes on Hadi government forces in Yemen

Horn of Africa: Al Shabaab raids 14 villages in Lower Shabelle region; al Shabaab militants ambush Kenyan police forces in Garissa County; ISIS-linked group conducts its first suicide bombing in Somalia; Somali security forces to clear al Shabaab roadblocks in southern Somalia

Yemen Security Brief

UN Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric confirmed that demonstrators outside Sana’a International Airport opened fire on the convoy of UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on May 22. Al Houthi-Saleh security forces also fired into the air to disperse protesters. Ould Cheikh Ahmed met with al Houthi-Saleh Prime Minister Abdul Aziz bin Habtour and al Houthi-Saleh Foreign Minister Hisham Sharaf in Sana’a on May 23 to discuss a ceasefire proposal. Its terms include: the unification of the Yemeni Central Banks as a neutral institution, the withdrawal of al Houthi-Saleh forces from al Hudaydah port, and the removal of the Saudi-led coalition blockade on Sana’a International Airport. Bin Habtour agreed on the bank’s unification and the lifting of the blockade but did not address al Hudaydah port. The al Houthi-Saleh Supreme Political Council expressed disappointment toward the UN for “weakness” in addressing Yemen’s humanitarian crisis on May 23. Mohamed Abdel Salam, spokesman for the al Houthi Ansar Allah party, stated that the al Houthi-Saleh bloc will not abide by UN agreements until public employees receive salaries and the Sana’a airport blockade is lifted.[1] 

The Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Vincent R. Stewart, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 23. He stated that al Houthi-Saleh forces struck Taif, Saudi Arabia, with a ballistic missile in 2016. Stewart’s statement likely referred to al Houthi-Saleh missile launches toward Taif on September 2 and October 9, 2016. Saudi Arabia claimed to intercept one of the missiles and did not comment on the other. Stewart assessed that the conflict in Yemen will “almost certainly” persist, allowing al Qaeda and ISIS to expand their territorial control.[2]

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed on May 24 that militants released Craig McAllister, an Australian soccer teacher kidnapped in Sana’a in September 2016. The Omani government facilitated his release. McAllister last appeared in a hostage video in January 2017 in which he stated that his kidnappers would kill him if the Australian government, the Football Federation of Yemen, or the Yemeni Department of Youth and Sports did not meet their demands.[3]

Al Houthi-Saleh forces claimed to launch a “Zilzal-2” ballistic missile at a military outpost manned by forces loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi in eastern Mokha district, Taiz governorate, on May 23. Al Houthi-Saleh forces also claimed a Zilzal-2 strike on Hadi government forces in Wadi Milh area, Nihm district, near Sana’a city. Neither attack is confirmed.[4]

Horn of Africa Security Brief

Al Shabaab raided 14 different villages in Lower Shabelle region between May 22 and 23. Teams of 10-12 militants conducted the attacks. The militants kidnapped approximately 25 young people, torched houses, and stole livestock. Pro-al Shabaab Shahada News Agency reported that al Shabaab militants also killed 15 Somali National Army (SNA) soldiers in the attacks. The villages are located in the area of KM-50 and Murri, approximately 30 miles southwest of Mogadishu. Lower Shabelle Governor Abrahim Aden Najah said that al Shabaab launched the attacks to preempt a planned military offensive by SNA and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces in the region. Al Shabaab characterized the intensification of attacks in Somalia in recent weeks as a “proactive step” against the planned expansion U.S. and Somali military operations.[5]

 Al Shabaab militants detonated a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) targeting Kenyan police forces in Liboi town in Garissa County, eastern Kenya, on May 24. The blast destroyed a vehicle and killed three Kenyan police officers on patrol near the town, located 10 miles from the Kenyan-Somali border. Al Shabaab militants conducted a similar IED attack near the Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa County, located 50 miles from Liboi, on May 16. That attack killed four civilians. Al Shabaab has increased a campaign of low-level attacks targeting Kenyan civilians and police forces in recent weeks. The group aims to drive public pressure for the withdrawal of Kenyan forces from Somalia ahead of the August general elections.[6]

An Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS)-linked suicide bomber attacked a military checkpoint in Boosaaso in Bari region, northern Somalia, on May 23. The blast least four people, including two Puntland State soldiers. Local police believe the bomber was targeting a nearby hotel frequented by Puntland government officials but was stopped by security forces. ISIS-linked Amaq News Agency claimed responsibility for the attack and identified the bomber as Abu Qudama al Marihani. This is the first suicide bombing conducted by ISIS-linked militants in Somalia. Between 100 and 200 ISIS-linked militants led by Abdiqadir Mumin operate from outposts in the Galgala Mountain area of Bari region in northeastern Somalia.[7]

Somali security forces dismantled at least 26 al Shabaab roadblocks in Middle and Lower Shabelle regions in the past two months. Most of the dismantled roadblocks were located in the Warsheikh district of Middle Shabelle region, approximately 35 miles northeast of Mogadishu. Somali security forces conducted similar clearing operations in Lower Shabelle region, where al Shabaab has blockaded several towns in recent weeks. Security forces also announced operations to clear roadblocks in Bay region along a key road between Mogadishu and Baidoa. Al Shabaab installs roadblocks in order to extort money from travelers and disrupt the movement of Somali security forces. Roadblocks have impeded humanitarian distribution along major supply routes throughout southern Somalia.[8]

[1] “Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General,” UN, May 23, 2017,; “Prime Minister receives UN Envoy to Yemen,” Sabanews, May 23, 2017,; “Political Council describes the UN role in Yemen as weak and calls for Sudan to reject their role in the aggression,” al Masirah, May 23, 2017,; and “Ansar Allah Spokesman: We are not bound by discussion with the UN until salaries and the opening of the Sana’a airport is achieved,” al Masirah, May 23, 2017,
[2] Lt. General Vincent R. Stewart, “Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment,” May 23, 2017,; and Mohammed Ghobari, “Yemen’s Houthis respond to air strike with missile attack,” Reuters, October 10, 2016,
[3] Sophie McNeill, “Australian man kidnapped in Yemen freed,” ABC News, May 24, 2017,; and “Video shows kidnapped Australian football coach in Yemen,” SITE, January 10, 2017, available by subscription at
[4] “Zilzal-2 strikes mercenary aggression in eastern Mokha, Taiz,” Sabanews, May 23, 2017,; and “Zilzal-2 targets mercenary gatherings,” Sabanews, May 23, 2017,
[5] Mohamed Olad Hassan, “Militants Attack 14 villages in Southern Somalia,” Voice of America, May 23, 2017,; “Shabaab Claims Killing 15 Somali Soldiers in Offensive in Lower Shabelle,” SITE Intelligence, May 23, 2017,; and “Shabaab Calls Its Recent Attacks Countermeasures to Intensified Pressure from Somali, U.S. Governments,” SITE Intelligence, April 11, 2017,
[6] “Three Kenyan police killed in landmine attack claimed by al Shabaab,” Reuters, May 24, 2017,; and Stephen Astariko, “Four killed in IED attack in Liboi,” The Star, May 17, 2017,
[7] Abdi Guled, “Somali Suicide Bomber Kills 4 at Puntland Checkpoint,” Associated Press, May 23, 2017,; “IS Claims Killing 7 Enemy Troops, Wounding 10 in Boosaaso Suicide Bombing,” SITE Intelligence, May 24, 2017,; and Ludovica Iaccino, “ISIS claims responsibility for its first suicide bombing in Somalia,” International Business Times, May 24, 2017,
[8] Shmuel Yosef Agnon, “Security Forces Dismantle 26 al Shabaab Illegal Roadblocks Planted in Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle,” Strategic Intelligence Service, May 22, 2017,; and Shmuel Yosef Agnon, “Security Forces Begins Opening Roadblocks Set by al Shabaab in Bay Region,” Strategic Intelligence Service, May 17, 2017,
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