Sanaa under threat
Al-Qaeda forces have regrouped in the Yemeni capital after being driven out of the southern provinces earlier this year, reports Nasser Arrabyee in Sanaa
The Yemeni capital Sanaa seems to have become the safest place for Al-Qaeda operations in the country, after government troops defeated the organisation in remote areas, and many recently recruited fighters have gone to Sanaa in order to carry out attacks on military and security targets and Western interests, according to interviews with the fighters.
One senior Yemeni military official confirmed this week that Al-Qaeda operatives fighting in the southern province of Abyan had returned to the country's cities, often to the capital Sanaa.
"About 70 to 80 per cent of those who were fighting us in Zinjubar, Jaar and Shuqrah have gone back to Sanaa and the other main cities, because nobody knows them there and they are very young," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Those who are hiding are few, and they are on our wanted lists. The latter make up the top leaders of the organisation, and they are famous operatives," he added.
The official said that 20 per cent of Al-Qaeda operatives had split into three groups, according to military and security intelligence, after the defeats they suffered at the hands of government troops last month.
One group has headed to Al-Mahfad, a mountainous area between Shabwah and Abyan, a second group has gone to the eastern province of Hadhramout, more specifically to Wadi Dawan in Sayoun, and a third group has gone to Radaa in Al-Baidha province.
One recent estimate of Al-Qaeda elements in the country puts their numbers at 10,000 fighters, according to sources close to Al-Qaeda.
As a result, many Al-Qaeda operatives, including the youngest and most dangerous, are now in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, and the month of Ramadan, which begins on 20 July, is expected to witness many terrorist acts since Al-Qaeda believes that Ramadan is the month of "victories" over its enemies.
On 16 July, the Yemeni security forces arrested a young man wearing an explosive belt before he blew himself up among security forces doing their daily exercises in the Central Security Forces headquarters in Sanaa, according to security sources.
A day earlier, a passerby was killed when he picked up a bag abandoned in the street in the Hezyaz area of the northern outskirts of Sanaa. The bag was full of explosives and had been primed to await a military convoy.
On 11 July, 10 students were killed and 20 others were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of the Police Academy in Sanaa in an attack aimed at "taking revenge on the academy," according to security sources.
A group of students from the academy had earlier arrested an Al-Qaeda operative, leading to the arrest of ten more Al-Qaeda members who had been behind the massacre of 21 May in which more than 100 soldiers were killed and 300 injured during a rehearsal for a parade in Sanaa.
Minutes after the massacre on 21 May, known as the Asabeen Massacre, the Police Academy students arrested a cameraman who had been filming the details of the explosion.
"We were very angry to see someone filming, such that we nearly beat him to death," said Fahd, a student from the Police Academy who had participated in the arrest.
The cameraman was later identified as a member of an Al-Qaeda cell assigned to film the suicide bombing at Asabeen before and during the implementation of the operation.
It was this man who had filmed suicide bomber Haitham Mufareh as he said his prayers before the Asabeen Massacre, and the video clip shown later had been found in his camera.
Many commentators now say that Al-Qaeda in Yemen may be more dangerous than ever as a result of recent developments.
In an attempt to make people reject Al-Qaeda, a campaign is underway in Sanaa to tell people about the crimes carried out by the organisation. The campaign, organised by the Central Security Forces, includes various activities and events and is held in the area of Asabeen.
Pictures of those killed or injured in the 21 May attack are shown, as are the first moments of the suicide bombing. Families, relatives, friends, and others visit the place every day in order to witness the events.
Colonel Sharaf Hamdeen, the officer in charge of the campaign, said that at least 1,500 people had visited thus far, many of them signing a petition calling for those responsible for the massacre to be executed in the Square.
Yemeni, Arab and international politicians and diplomats have also visited the place to share in the condemnation of the massacre.
Major Mahdi Al-Jarbani, commander of the 120-man battalion involved that was almost totally wiped out by the Al-Qaeda action, has also visited the Square.
Al Jarbani himself was only slightly injured in the attack, though he was only one metre away from the Central Security Forces targeted in the Al-Qaeda attack.
"When I heard the explosion, I tried to keep standing. I did not feel that I was injured, but when I looked back I saw arms, legs, heads, and bodies in a sea of blood," Al-Jarbani said, vowing that he would continue the campaign against Al-Qaeda until the perpetrators were brought to justice.
Al-Qaeda has also brought about tremendous suffering in the south of the country, where it ruled for a year and a half before it was driven out last month.
Organisation operatives cut off the hands of more than 10 people and executed more than five others, including three alleged spies for Saudi Arabia and the US, while it ruled the three Taliban-style emirates of Azzan, Jaar and Zinjubar in the southern provinces of Shabwah and Abyan.
Khaled Abdel-Aziz, 32, from the village of Hajar in the area between Jaar and Zinjubar is the father of three children and lives in a house made of clay. Al-Qaeda cut off his right hand earlier this year after accusing him of stealing ammunition.
According to Abdel-Aziz, the real reason was that he had refused to fight on Al-Qaeda's behalf. "I swear that I did not steal anything. Those who bore witness against me wanted to punish me because I refused to fight with them," he said.
"Now that they have cut off my right hand, who will support my wife and kids? I can not work with only one hand," he added.
Eyfak Ali Abdullah, 22, from Zinjubar is another man who has suffered from the brutal practices of Al-Qaeda. His right hand was cut off after he was accused of stealing an air conditioner. "They cut off my hand without trial and sent me home without any help or treatment," he said.
The suffering of the residents of south Yemen has continued even after Al-Qaeda was driven from the area.
About 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are still living away from their houses in Zinjubar, Jaar and neighbouring areas despite the fact that Al-Qaeda was driven out of the area earlier in June.
The IDPs are waiting for basic services to return to their towns and villages, which were damaged by the war, and they are afraid of the mines planted by Al-Qaeda everywhere, including inside their houses.
Waid Nasser Said, 35, was the first IDP to be killed by a mine planted at the door of his house in Al-Kud on the outskirts of Zinjubar on 10 June. He had left his wife Sawsan, 30, and his three-year-old son Abdel-Moneim in the IDPs camp at the Kataban School in Aden to go back to check on his house.
However, as soon as he arrived a mine planted under the door of the house exploded, killing him and a friend who had come to see the house, since making other IDPs reluctant to return home.