The security situation in Yemen improved in some respects in 2012, but remains unstable. Specifically, the new administration led by President Hadi has been more aggressive in countering al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) than the previous administration. In 2012, the Yemeni government carried out a two-month offensive to uproot AQAP from portions of Abyan Governorate, and Yemeni forces eventually regained control over the towns of Zinjibar and Jaar. However, approximately 3,000 land mines, planted by AQAP militants before they fled, killed 72 residents in the aftermath of AQAP’s departure. Other AQAP attacks in 2012 targeted the Yemeni military, including a February 2012 suicide car bombing that killed 26 Yemeni soldiers in Hadramawt Governorate. Of particular note, in June 2012, a Yemeni military offensive conducted in conjunction with tribal militias in southern Yemen removed AQAP from regions where it had seized control during the civil unrest in 2011.
The FTO designation for AQAP was amended on October 4, 2012, to include the alias Ansar al-Shari’a (AAS). AAS represents a rebranding effort designed to attract potential followers in areas under AQAP’s control. AQAP, operating under the alias AAS, carried out a May 2012 suicide bombing in Sanaa that killed 96 people. AQAP/AAS claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted Yemeni soldiers rehearsing for a parade to celebrate Yemen’s National Day, and said the bombing was intended to target the Yemeni military brass. Also in May 2012, press reported that AQAP allegedly plotted to detonate a bomb aboard a U.S.-bound airliner using an improvised explosive device. Though there was no imminent threat to U.S. jetliners, the device, which was acquired from another government, was similar to devices that AQAP had previously used in attempted terrorist attacks.
On October 4, 2012 the US Department of State amended the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and E.O. 13224 designations of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula to include the new alias, Ansar al-Shari’a (AAS). The Department of State previously designated AQAP as an FTO and under E.O. 13224 on January 19, 2010.
AAS – which is based in Yemen and is a separate entity from Ansar al-Shari’a in Libya – was established to attract potential followers to shari’a rule in areas under the control of AQAP. However, AAS is simply AQAP’s effort to rebrand itself, with the aim of manipulating people to join AQAP’s terrorist cause. AAS has publicly stated that the particular brand of shari’a they hope to implement is the same as that espoused by the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq, a militant umbrella group and designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that includes al-Qa’ida in Iraq.
AAS has taken responsibility for multiple attacks against Yemeni forces. One such attack, which took place in May 2012, killed more than 100 Yemeni soldiers in a suicide bombing during a parade. In March 2012, a series of attacks and armed assaults by AAS in southern Yemen killed 100 people, many of whom were Yemeni soldiers.
The consequences of adding the new alias for AQAP include a prohibition against knowingly providing material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with, Ansar al-Shari’a, and the freezing of all property and interest in property of the organization that are in the United States, or come within the United States, or the control of U.S. persons. The Department of State took these actions in consultation with the Departments of Justice and Treasury.
In addition, today the United Nations 1267/1989 Al-Qa’ida Sanctions Committee listed AAS. As a consequence the group now faces a worldwide assets freeze, a travel ban, and an arms embargo. The actions taken today against AAS support the U.S. effort to degrade the capabilities of its parent organization, AQAP. We are determined to eliminate AQAP’s ability to execute violent attacks and to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat their networks.
In the southern governorates of Abyan and Aden, terrorist activity by AQAP / Ansar al Sharia caused a large number of deaths and injuries during 2012. Government forces, supported by local tribal militias, carried out an offensive in the spring to drive AQAP militias from strongholds in Abyan. Hundreds of combatants on both sides died during the fighting, and reports indicated that innocent bystanders also were killed. Tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) were forced from Abyan to Lahj and Aden for safety and shelter. AQAP-controlled areas in Abyan Governorate were booby-trapped with mines and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and dozens of IDPs who returned to their homes after government forces regained control of former AQAP areas were killed when they entered these booby-trapped homes or family areas.
However, AQAP continued to conduct attacks against the Yemeni government and remains a threat to the United States, and according to a senior Yemeni MOD official, AQAP’s decision to change tactics from seizing and holding territory to conducting targeted assassinations of Yemeni government officials, including in Sana’a, constitutes a major security challenge. Yemen’s transitional period has weakened the central state’s security apparatus to a degree that is likely to make the battle for local support, rather than further degradation of state capacity, AQAP’s priority.
Although it is difficult to assess the number of AQAP’s members, as of 2012 the group was estimated to have close to one thousand members. AQAP’s funding primarily came from robberies and kidnap for ransom operations and to a lesser degree from donations from like-minded supporters.
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