By OREN ADAKI
Reports in Arabic media outlets indicate that the Yemeni military is expanding its southern offensive against militants from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that began on April 28. Reports yesterday claimed that the Yemeni military offensive was centered on the axis leading from the towns of Mahfad and Ahwar in Abyan province to the city of Azzan in Shabwa. Others suggested that the Yemeni military was also operating in AQAP strongholds in Baydha province.
Yesterday AQAP militants ambushed a Yemeni military convoy outside the city of Azzan in Shabwa province, leading to the deaths of 15 soldiers and 12 militants. Before fleeing the scene, the AQAP militants reportedly kidnapped an additional 15 soldiers. Supporters of AQAP on Twitter posted images of the charred convoy and claimed that a prominent Yemeni commander, Mahmoud al Sabihi, was in the targeted convoy and managed to escape unhurt.
Today AQAP announced that it had executed three of the 15 kidnapped soldiers. Yemeni security sources told the Arabic media that locals found the bodies of the three executed soldiers, who appeared to have been severely beaten with iron tools prior to being killed. These same sources also claimed that AQAP released two of the 15 kidnapped soldiers last night after beating them as well.
In the past few days reports have also emerged that the Yemeni military has launched a parallel offensive in Sana’a province to root out the terror group’s presence in the vicinity of the Yemeni capital. A security source told Arabic news outlets that the ongoing operations in Sana’a were being conducted by Yemeni special forces and commando units and that more operations in other provinces are imminent.
Reports had surfaced yesterday of an explosion that purportedly occurred in close proximity to the Police Academy in Sana’a while a graduation ceremony was being held that was attended by Yemeni President, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. No casualties or injuries were reported and the Yemeni Ministry of Defense quickly denied that any explosion had occurred. AQAP supporters on Twitter disseminated photographs of what appeared to be the aftermath of the explosion outside of the Police Academy.
Today the Yemeni Ministry of Defense’s official spokesman, Mohammad al Qa’edi, stated that 72 AQAP militants have been killed so far in the offensive, although he did not clarify if that number includes those militants killed in the three US drone strikes on April 19-20. Al Qa’edi also claimed that 26 AQAP militants have been arrested and 12 improvised explosive devices have been defused.
Notably, al Qa’edi mentioned that Yemeni security services have arrested members of an al Qaeda cell that was plotting to kidnap a diplomat from the United Arab Emirates embassy, and added that another al Qaeda cell that was planning on kidnapping Saudi nationals was also dismantled. Yesterday, a Yemeni security official announced that five AQAP commanders were killed in clashes with the miltary in Shabwa province, and identified one of the slain militants as Abu al Qa’qa’.
In related news, on April 23, a Saudi official told Arabic news sources that Yemen has transferred the corpse of an AQAP militant who was killed in the US drone strikes on April 19-21 to Saudi Arabia for DNA testing. The Saudi official said the slain militant was a Saudi believed to have held a prominent role in the terrorist organization. Following the US drone strike during the night between April 20-21 in Shabwa, after which Yemeni helicopters landed at the site, suspicions emerged as to whether Ibrahim al Asiri, AQAP’s master bomb maker, or another prominent AQAP figure was killed. However, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained and translated an audio statement released by AQAP’s media wing today, AQAP commander Jalal al Marqishi denied reports of the death of any AQAP commander as a result of the strike in Shabwa.