Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Arab countries intervened in the war in March 2015 in support of the government, which had been swept into exile by the Houthis.
The two armed suspects in the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were killed and their hostage freed during a police raid northeast of Paris on 09 January 2015. Two days prior, they killed a dozen people – 10 members of the magazine's staff and two policemen – in the bloodiest attack on French soil in half a century. The satirical magazine was known for poking fun of, among other things, all religions, including Islam. Charlie Hebdo had republished 12 editorial cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad which had originally appeard in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. It had also subsequently published on several other occasions other illustrations of Muhammad. One of the brothers had recently spent time in Yemen associating with al Qaeda in that country.
A separate raid in the capital killed another gunman holding multiple hostages at a kosher supermarket in the capital, but three hostages died in that operation. The gunman in the supermarket attack is believed to be the same man who shot and killed a policewoman south of Paris the previous day.
The Charlie Hebdo attack was officially claimed by AQAP in an online video released on 14 January 2015, declaring the attack an 'act of vengeance' for the Prophet Muhammad. In the video, Nasr al-Ansi, a top leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, said AQAP has planned and financed the Charlie Hebdo attack. The third attacker involved in separate attacks in the French capital was, according to the same al-Ansi, acting independently.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula announced its new leader June 16, 2015, shortly after an al-Qaida video appeared on line saying U.S. airstrikes killed AQAP's chief last week along with two other members. But analysts say the group has in the past proved resilient. An al-Qaida spokesman read a statement in a video saying Nasser al-Wuhayshi is dead and former Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula military leader Qasim al-Raymi is now in command.
In Yemen, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIL’s Yemen branch capitalized on the ongoing conflict between the Government of Yemen, supported by the Saudi-led coalition, and the Houthi-led opposition to gain deeper inroads across much of the country. AQAP expanded its safe haven by seizing several towns, including the port city of Mukalla, which has given it access to increased financial resources.
Despite losing a number of senior leaders during 2015, the group was able to increase its recruiting and expand its safe haven in Yemen. ISIL’s affiliate conducted hundreds of attacks during the year, primarily against Houthi forces and Zaydi Shia mosques, in a bid to stoke sectarian tensions similar to ISIL’s tactics in Iraq and Syria. Although the Yemeni government has reestablished a presence in Aden, a large security vacuum persisted that both ISIL and AQAP have taken advantage of to strengthen their footholds and forces inside the country.
AQAP and ISIL terrorists carried out hundreds of attacks throughout Yemen. Methods included suicide bombers, vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs), ambushes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. The following list details only a small fraction of the incidents that occurred:
- On March 20, ISIL-Yemen detonated separate suicide vests at two Zaydi mosques in Sana’a, during Friday prayers. At one of the mosques, a suicide bomber entered the crowd of worshipers before detonating and the second bomber detonated as worshipers were fleeing. The blast killed 77 people and injured more than 120 others. On the same day, another suicide bomber attempted to detonate a suicide vest at a Zaydi mosque in Sa’ada City, Sa’ada.
- On April 2, AQAP attacked government and security facilities in al-Mukalla, Hadramawt, on Yemen’s southern coast. Militants also attacked a prison and freed an estimated 270 inmates, including AQAP’s former head of Abyan province, Khaled Batarfi.
- On April 16, AQAP-linked terrorists led by AQAP’s former head of Abyan, Khaled Batarfi, and calling themselves the “Sons of Hadramawt,” seized control of al Dhabah oil terminal, directly east of the port city al Mukalla in Hadramawt. The terrorists also seized Rayyan Airport, east of al-Mukalla.
- On October 6, ISIL-Yemen claimed to have detonated four suicide VBIEDs near Yemeni government and Saudi-led coalition sites in Aden.
- On October 14, AQAP terrorists seized a government complex in Zinjibar, a port city near Aden in southern Yemen that AQAP controlled throughout 2011 and into 2012. Suspected AQAP terrorists also attacked an intelligence building in al-Hudaydah, Yemen’s Red Seaport.
- On December 6, ISIL-Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack that killed the Governor of Aden, Major General Jaafar Mohammed Saad, and threatened additional attacks on Yemeni government officials.
AQAP and ISIL-Yemen manipulated the conflict as part of a broader Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict. By emphasizing this sectarian divide based on Ansar-Allah’s Shia religion and support from Iran, these groups have increased their support base and enabled ISIL-Yemen to gain a foothold in the country. ISIL-Yemen has targeted Zaydi Shia mosques in its attacks. While the exact composition of ISIL-Yemen is still unknown, its numbers are considerably smaller than AQAP’s despite it having likely drawn members from some of the same disillusioned Yemeni AQAP members who previously supported ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Structurally, there are seven known wilayat (province) pro-ISIL groups operating in 10 of Yemen’s provinces, including Sa’ada, Sana’a, al-Jawf, al-Bayda, Taiz, Ibb, Lahij, Aden, Shahwah, and Hadramawt. While ISIL in Yemen has demonstrated a violent operational pace, it has yet to occupy significant territory or challenge AQAP’s status of Yemen’s predominate Sunni Islamist terrorist group.
AQAP benefitted during 2015 from the conflict in Yemen by significantly expanding its presence in the southern and eastern governorates. Despite losing a number of senior leaders during 2015, the group was able to increase its recruiting and expand its safe haven in Yemen. It also insinuated itself among multiple factions on the ground, which has made it more difficult to counter. This tactic has allowed AQAP to continue to expand the territory it controlled during 2015 to Abyan, Taiz, and its largest safe haven in the port city of al-Mukalla. It also maintained a presence in Aden. In addition, there were no direct physical clashes reported between the two groups during 2015. Most disputes were confined to verbal or online attacks. However, this could change as the two groups continue to compete with one another.
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