Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—At least 40 people were killed on Friday in southern Yemen when suspected Al-Qaeda militants launched simultaneous attacks on military targets.
Local media reported that two car bombs exploded at a military camp in Shabwa province, killing around 20 soldiers and wounding many others. A second attack saw suspected Islamist gunmen shoot dead another 10 soldiers in the town of Mayfa’a.
The attacks were the largest in Yemen since a US-backed military offensive last year liberated territory that had been seized by militants during Yemen’s 2011 political turmoil.
In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat prior to Friday’s attacks, Yemeni interior minister Dr. Abdul Qader Qahtan confirmed that Sana’a is fighting a large-scale war against an alliance of extremist groups seeking to establish an Islamic Emirate in the country.
The Yemeni interior minister said that the country is paying the price for terrorist activities taking place outside of its borders, adding that “a large number of fighters from different nationalities have entered the country over the past years.”
He said that the Yemeni security authorities were working actively to pursue and arrest extremists and militants, adding that they have foiled a number of terrorist operations over the past few years.
In August, Yemeni authorities announced they had thwarted plans by Al-Qaeda to attack a strategic southern port and oil and gas facilities. A Yemeni government spokesman said that Yemen’s security authorities had foiled Al-Qaeda plans to seize control of a vital seaport at Mukalla, the capital of Hadramaut Province, adding that the militants had allegedly planned to kill or kidnap foreigners working for the Canadian-run Mina Al-Dhaba oil terminal.
As for the series of assassinations and attacks targeting Yemeni security, military and intelligence officials, Qahtan said: “These operations came after the valiant battles that were fought by the security and military forces. [The government forces were joined by] the popular committees in the Abyan Governorate against the Ansar Al-Sharia organization, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, and the defeat and destruction of the group there and the end of its plan to establish an Islamic Emirate.”
The minister also cited the high level of cooperation between Yemen and a number of “sisterly and friendly states as part of combating terrorism,” specifically citing the United States. He added: “This cooperation has achieved significant success in combating extremist forces.”
The Yemeni interior minister said: “The senior elements of Al-Qaeda are being prosecuted, while the majority of terrorist operations that have taken place recently were carried out by teenagers who have fallen prey to extremism and terrorism.”
Qahtan also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the fight against terrorism is not solely being conducted by the security authorities, but added that all authorities are cooperating and coordinating in this endeavor, adding that Yemen is also working to dry up financing for terrorist organizations.
He added: “Yemen is the country that has been subject to the most terrorist attacks over the past two decades, including the targeting of warships and oil tankers, tourists, and officers and soldiers.”
Commenting on Saudi–Yemeni coordination in combating terrorism, the Yemeni interior minister said that the cooperation between Sana’a and Riyadh is “greater than some think, and it has produced positive results,” adding that this cooperation “is ongoing, and will continue.”