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Cablegate: Yemen: 2009 Country Reports On Terrorism


DE RUEHYN #2249/01 3551311
R 211311Z DEC 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) SUMMARY. The security situation in Yemen continued to
deteriorate during 2009. Al-Qa'ida Yemen (AQY) announced its
merger with al-Qa'ida elements in Saudi Arabia in January
2009, creating al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
This strategy of consolidation and greater organization
received significant publicity and demonstrated al-Qa'ida's
reinvigorated recruitment efforts. The creation of AQAP
coincided with fewer attacks within Yemen, possibly due to
the desire of its leadership to use Yemen as a safe haven for
planning of future attacks and recruitment because the
central government lacks a strong presence in much of the
country. The government's response to the terrorist threat
was intermittent and its ability to pursue and prosecute
suspected terrorists remained weak due to a number of
shortcomings, including draft counterterrorism legislation
stalled in Parliament. The government's focus on the "Sixth
War" of the ongoing Houthi rebellion in the Sa'ada
governorate in the north of the country, which began in
August 2009 and had not ceased as of December 2009, political
unrest in southern Yemen, and internal security concerns
distracted its forces from focusing on counterterrorism
activities. END SUMMARY.

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2. (U) There were three terrorist attacks against foreign
interests in 2009:

On March 15, four South Korean tourists were killed in
a suicide bomb attack in the city of Shibam in Hadramaut
On March 18, a motorcade carrying South Korean
government officials was attacked by a suicide bomber on the
road to Sana'a International Airport.
In June, nine foreigners were kidnapped in Sa'ada,
resulting in three confirmed deaths. The remaining six are
still missing.

3. (U) There were a number of terrorist attacks against
Yemeni interests in 2009, particularly Yemeni security and
military targets. Revenge for the imprisonment or killing of
fellow terrorists and raids on suspected terrorist safe
houses by Yemeni security forces motivated the majority of
attacks on Yemeni interests. Terrorist elements, either
explicitly aligned with AQAP or offshoot actors, attacked
Yemeni targets of opportunity in Ma'rib and Hadramaut in
June, July, October, and November, including the
assassination of three high-level security officials. AQAP
has shown signs of financial strain, and Yemeni authorities
suspect them to have conducted the sophisticated,
highly-coordinated attack on a Yemeni bank truck in Aden on
August 17 that resulted in the theft of $500,000.

4. (U) While attacks inside Yemen decreased in number from
2008, AQAP launched a daring attempt on Saudi
counterterrorism chief Prince Mohammed bin Nayef's life in
Riyadh in August. A known AQAP member, claiming to seek a
royal pardon during Ramadan, succeeded in gaining access to
bin Nayef and detonated a bomb, killing himself but failing
to inflict serious injury on the prince. The suicide bomber
is thought to have crossed into Saudi Arabia via the northern
Yemeni border.

5. (U) Despite these security challenges, the government did
have some successes in 2009. On January 19, the Counter
Terrorism Unit (CTU) conducted a raid on an al-Qa'ida cell in
Sana'a, which resulted in the death of two suspects, and the
capture of another suspect and a weapons cache, including
machine guns, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades. In
March, Abdullah Abdul-Rahman Mohammed al-Harbi, a Saudi AQAP
member, was arrested in Ta'iz. Also in Yemen, Naif Duhais
Yahya al-Harbi, another Saudi national AQAP member,
surrendered and Hasan Hessian bin Alwan, a Saudi AQAP
financier, was arrested in June.

6. (U) Prosecuting terrorists remained a large hurdle for
Yemeni courts, largely because current law, as applied to
counterterrorism and the financing of terrorism, remained
weak. Counterterrorism legislation sent to a Parliamentary
committee for review in 2008 remained there at year's end.
The absence of effective counterterrorism legislation that
criminalized the activities of those engaged in planning,
facilitating, and financing acts of terrorism, both in Yemen
and abroad, contributed to Yemen's appeal as a safe haven and
potential base of operations for terrorists. For this
reason, the government was forced to apply other available
laws, including fraudulent document charges or "membership in
an armed gang" charges to thwart foreign fighters going to
Iraq and Afghanistan. Terrorists committing acts of
terrorism in Yemen can face punishment for murder or assault
under the criminal system, but terrorism itself is not a
defined crime, and therefore not illegal. Legal, political,
and logistical hurdles remain a hindrance to an effective
detention and rehabilitation program for GTMO returnees. The
government lacks a secure facility to house GTMO returnees, a
plan for rehabilitating the returnees, or even the legal
framework and political will to hold returnees for any more
than a cursory amount of time. The government's monitoring
program of released GTMO returnees remains largely

7. (U) As Saudi security forces have clamped down on
terrorism, and foreign fighters have returned from
Afghanistan and Pakistan, Yemen's porous borders have allowed
many terrorists to seek safe haven within Yemen. At least 35
known al-Qa'ida operatives, veterans of fighting in
Afghanistan, currently reside in Sana'a. The government
lacks a strong security apparatus outside major cities and
its Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) and Yemen Special Operations
Force (YSOF), the state's two premier counterterrorism
entities, still require additional training and funding in
order to effectively target terrorist elements.
Unfortunately, the government has used the CTU and YSOF in
Sa'ada to fight the Houthis, which has limited their capacity
to target AQAP. The government's definition of "terrorism"
differs greatly from the USG definition of terrorism. In
addition to AQAP attacks, the government also views the
Houthi rebellion in the north, the separatist movement in the
south, and piracy in the Gulf of Aden as acts of terrorism.

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