On March 25, the Aden Security Department announced the arrest of three militants suspected of being part of an Islamic State (IS) media and reconnaissance team active in the Yemeni interim capital (el-Nashra, March 25). Yemeni security officials stated that the operation, carried out in coordination with forces belonging to the Saudi-led coalition, led to the seizure of a cache of explosive material, weapons, detonators and high-tech media equipment, including cameras and commercial drones, used by the militant cell to gather information on potential targets and to produce propaganda material (al-Arabiya, March 25; al-Masdaronline March 25).
This was the second major counter-terrorism operation targeting members of IS in Aden over the course of a single week. On March 21, members of the elite counter-terrorism unit raided another IS hideout in Aden. The raid resulted in the arrest of a senior IS commander who is suspected of being the mastermind behind the February 24 double suicide attack on the headquarters of an anti-terrorism unit in the southern Yemeni city (Adengad.net, March 21; The National, February 24). IS claimed that attack, which killed and injured more than 40 people, the following day. Lieutenant Abdulrahman al-Naqeeb, a spokesperson for the Aden police, did not reveal to the Yemeni media the name of the captured commander, identifying him only by his code-name “FAS.” He did note, however, that the arrested jihadist provided important information during questioning. The intelligence collected included information on a number of attacks the group was planning to mount in the Yemeni interim capital (Yemen Akhbar, March 23). Al-Naqeeb also stated that the documents seized during the raid represented a “major intelligence breakthrough” for the Yemeni security forces battling jihadists affiliated with either IS or al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) across southern Yemen (Hadramawt.Net, March 24).
The arrests came at a time of increasing IS activity in Aden after a several-month hiatus. Following the February 25 bombings, an IS foot soldier shot and killed one soldier and wounded another in Mansura, a district of Aden, on March 4 (Adengad.net, March 4). On March 26, another IS militant forced his entry at Aden University, opening fire on the security guards deployed at the entrance, killing one and wounding two others (Adengad.net, March 26). This sudden upturn in IS attacks in Aden, coupled with the score of fresh arrests made by Yemeni counter-terrorism forces, is indicative of the group’s current attempt to revive its militant campaign in the southern Yemeni city. Such an increase in IS activity is likely to pose a major test to the UAE-backed Yemeni counter-terrorism forces, as they are currently engaged in the more challenging fight against AQAP across southern Yemen.