The July 2 suicide attack in Marib, which killed eight Spanish tourists and two Yemeni drivers, painfully illustrated the degree to which Al-Qaeda in Yemen has reorganized itself into an effective force (Terrorism Focus, July 10). The Yemeni government was caught largely unaware by the attack, as it believed the al-Qaeda threat had been neutralized. Yet, while the government managed to deter one generation of militants, it neglected to maintain the initiative through the second generation. This second generation of fighters, many of whom have spent time in Iraq, coalesced around the leadership of some of the 23 men who escaped from a political security prison in Sanaa in February 2006 (Terrorism Focus, February 7, 2006). The government attempted to negotiate for the surrender of many of these escapees, 10 of whom have turned themselves in, but much of its resources over the past few years have been devoted to ending the al-Houthi revolt in the north, which it determined was a more immediate threat (Terrorism Focus, July 31).
Yemen did, however, react quickly in the aftermath of the suicide attack. It arrested a handful of suspects in the days following the attack and, on July 4, it killed Ahmad Baysawani Duwaydar, an Egyptian it claimed masterminded the strike (Terrorism Focus, July 10). Yet, after a more thorough investigation, the government modified its claims, and released the details of the 11-man cell it said was behind the attack (26th of September, August 2). Duwaydar’s role in the report was reduced to providing material support to the other members of the cell. Among the suspects were three of the 23 escapees, including the head of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Nasir al-Wuhayshi. Yemen also identified the suicide bomber as Abdu Muhammad Said Ruhayqah, a 21-year-old who was living in the Sanaa neighborhood of Musayk, which has become known over the past few years as a haven for Islamic militants.
Yemen responded to the most recent threat from al-Qaeda by renewing tribal alliances it had established in 2001 and 2002 to counter the militants. On August 5, three days after Yemen revealed the make-up of the cell, President Ali Abdullah Saleh traveled to Marib and al-Jawf to meet with tribal leaders and ask for their assistance in combating al-Qaeda (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 6). This was reminiscent of a similar trip Saleh made in late 2001, after more than a dozen soldiers were captured during a failed attempt to arrest two suspects in Marib. The early morning raid Yemen launched on an al-Qaeda hideout three days later demonstrates the success of the negotiations.
The raid, which took place in the border region between Marib and al-Jawf governorates, resulted in the deaths of all four al-Qaeda suspects. Three of the suspects—Ali Ali Nasir Doha, Naji Ali Salih Jaradan and Abd al-Aziz Said Jaradan—were wanted in the March assassination of Ali Mahmud Qasaylah, the chief criminal investigator in Marib, as well as for their role in the July 2 attack (Terrorism Focus, May 22). The fourth suspect was Amar Hasan Salih Haryadan, an 18-year-old from the Mahashimah tribe in al-Jawf. According to Yemen’s Interior Ministry, Haraydan had been recruited to be another suicide bomber in an upcoming attack that Al-Qaeda in Yemen was planning (al-Motamar.net, August 9).
Attacks on army checkpoints, government buildings and an electrical sub-station the following day in Marib appear to be retaliatory strikes by the suspects’ relatives and not a response from al-Qaeda. The attacks did little damage, but they do illustrate some of the problems the Yemeni government must navigate as it attempts to dismember al-Qaeda. This is not simply a two-sided battle between the government and Al-Qaeda in Yemen, but rather one of multiple and shifting alliances among a variety of different actors. The murky world of tribal loyalties and militant Islamism in the region has led Arafat Madabish, a Yemeni journalist, to label it “Maribistan” in an unflattering comparison to Pakistan’s Waziristan (al-Tagheer.com, August 9).
If Yemen is to succeed in dismantling this second generation of al-Qaeda-like militants, it must have significant tribal assistance. Saleh’s August 5 meeting was an important step, but a consistent and ongoing effort is necessary if Yemen does not want to face a third generation of militants.