Yemen vows to defy Al Qaeda's intimidation campaign

As Yemen celebrated a national holiday with a parade in Sanaa today, President Hadi said that recent attacks, including a bombing yesterday that killed more than 90 people, would not derail his government's campaign against terrorism.

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
Yemen's President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi applauds as he watches a parade marking the 22nd anniversary of Yemen's reunification in Sanaa May 22. Yemeni soldiers marched in a National Day parade watched by the president from behind a bullet-proof glass shield on Tuesday, one day after a suicide bomber killed more than 90 of their colleagues in an attack on the rehearsal.

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The day after more than 90 Yemeni soldiers were killed in a bombing during a rehearsal for a holiday parade, the real event was completed safely, something President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi portrayed as a show of defiance against terrorism.

Both Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a regional Al Qaeda affiliate, and a local offshoot, Ansar al-Sharia, claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack. 

"The war on terrorism will continue until it is uprooted and annihilated completely, regardless of the sacrifices," Mr. Hadi said, according to Reuters. 

"We are sad for our comrades, but al Qaeda will not scare us," soldier Khaled al-Ansi, standing on a street corner in the capital today, told Reuters. "We will confront it and defeat it."

The parade marked National Day, which celebrates the unification of north and south Yemen in 1990. The streets of Sanaa, the capital, were mostly empty, aside from the parade participants and dozens of policemen, partly because the day is a national holiday and partly because of fear of a repeat attack, Reuters reports. Only military cadets, not troops, took part in the parade today as a "security precaution."

A Yemeni soldier participating in the rehearsal carried out the bombing with explosives hidden under his clothing, Associated Press reports. In addition to killing more than 90, he wounded at least 200 others in the vicinity. 

The US has offered Hadi assistance investigating the bombing, Reuters reports. Washington has increased its support for the Yemeni government out of concern that the country has become a fertile breeding ground for militants hoping to target the US. The US has also ratcheted up its drone campaign, which targets militants.

A Los Angeles Times editorial says that the Obama administration's actions in Yemen indicate that it considers AQAP "the most dangerous incubator of terrorist plots directed at America."

AQAP said yesterday's attack was retaliation for a US-backed operation against it in southern Yemen, the Associated Press reports. In a statement yesterday, AQAP said "our main battle is against America so don't stand as a deterrent in the way or be tools or soldiers commanded by [Obama administration counterterrorism adviser] John Brennan and the American ambassador in Sanaa."

The Los Angeles Times reports that AQAP also said "Yemeni officials had been 'turned into mercenaries' carrying out US and Western policies. … 'We will get revenge.... What happened in Sana is only the beginning.'"

Many Yemeni officials believe that while the US drone campaign is achieving its goal of picking off militants operating in Yemen (most recently, key leader Fahd al-Quso), it is also becoming a "recruiting tool" for Al Qaeda by angering ordinary Yemenis, writes Timothy Fairbank, the managing director of Development Transformations, which specializes in "stabilization and development in countries in transition."

Based on a recent assessment trip to Yemen, Fairbank writes in Al-Monitor:

While drone strikes can be effective and necessary, the failure of the Yemeni government and international community to address the core issues driving instability – such as deficiencies in effective governance, economic development, the availability of goods and services, and youth engagement – undermines the security situation and facilitates the rise of terrorist groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Without a comprehensive approach, the US will continue to alienate the population and create an increasingly unstable and fragmented country, hostile to US national interests. US drone strikes are helping to radicalize a growing segment of the population. 

When viewed in isolation, eliminating Yemen’s terrorism threat is significantly more important to US national security interests than strengthening Yemen’s institutions and economy. But in Yemen, these issues are inextricably linked. The US must continue trying to eliminate the threat of terrorism, but only within the context of understanding and addressing the sources of instability and root causes of conflict and discontent. Some Yemeni citizens are joining AQAP because they lack hope in the current system and are increasingly furious over US drone strikes.


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