‘I saw them lay his body on the road, his uniform stained with blood’
Mohammed al-Qalisi, Lebanon National, Aug 31 2015
ADEN – Three or four gunshots rang out across the busy roundabout. I looked up and saw two men speeding away on a motorbike, their heads wrapped in black scarves. A crowd gathered around the large, motionless Toyota sedan belonging to Col Abd’ul-Hakim al-Sunaidi, the director for security operations in Aden. As I tried to get closer, security guards from Yemen’s Southern Resistance movement pushed me away. Eventually his body was taken from the driving seat and laid down on a mattress on the dusty road, his dark green uniform stained with blood. He had been hit by more than one bullet, a wound in his neck proving to be fatal. In front of me lay the man who had been working to restore security to a city left devastated by an attack and occupation from Houthi rebels from the north. His seniority within Yemen’s security apparatus had failed to protect him from the suspected AQAP gunmen operating in the late morning in the packed streets of Aden’s al-Mansourah district. He was driving home alone and without bodyguards, just 30 m from the city’s security HQ, when he was killed. He had been attending a meeting with the city’s other security chiefs just before the attack. Mohammed Mosaed, manager of Aden’s security department, said shortly afterwards:
The gunmen escaped the area. They were militants from AQAP. We are tracking them.
This death and several other attacks in the past week underline the challenge of restoring peace, not just to Aden but the rest of the country. Saudi-supported forces drove the Houthis from the city last month. With the Houthis banished, a fresh threat emerged last week when AQAP, who have strongholds in southern Yemen, infiltrated the city’s al-Tawahi district. They were not visible on the streets when I walked around the district’s seafront on Friday, but I heard residents talking about them. Khalid Said, a 25-year-old communications engineer, said:
It was the first time I had seen AQAP fighters in my neighbourhood and I am fearful of their presence. Sometimes they set up checkpoints in the area, moreover they raise their own flag in the area, but they do not remain for a long time in their checkpoints. There is no social acceptance for AQAP members in al-Tawahi, as most of the residents reject their existence, and that is why I think it will be easy for the Southern Resistance to expel them from Aden. The Southern Resistance needs to fight the extremists and prevent them from creating a new centre in Aden. AQAP want to kill those happy of victory in Aden (over the Houthis).
So far there have not been any clashes between AQAP and the Saudi-backed militias, which are formed from young, educated, professional residents of Aden, southern tribesmen and some political conservatives,and are also fiercely opposed to AQAP. While the fighting has not yet started, there have been a number of attacks in recent days blamed on AQAP. After Sunaidi’s killing yesterday, there was an assassination attempt on the under-secretary of Aden province that killed his bodyguard. Last week, a rocket attack on the city governor’s temporary HQ killed four people, and a bombing claimed by AQAP destroyed the secret police HQ in al-Tawahi. AQAP have also fought against the Houthis. In a recent interview in Abyan city, Jalal Balidi, a top AQAP leader, said his forces were fighting on 11 fronts and would focus next on fighting and recruitment, moving from southern Yemen to the north to fight the Houthis as they retreat towards Sanaa. Several residents in al-Tawahi accuse former Pres Saleh of supporting the AQAP members in al-Tawahi. He also sided with the Houthis to overthrow his successor Hadi, who remains in exile in Saudi Arabia. Another resident, schoolteacher Mahmud Mohammed, 32, said:
There are no real AQAP members in al-Tawahi. Rather, there is a group of people that is trying to create chaos in Aden, to confuse the Southern Resistance.
Some AQAP militants had already arrived in Aden from their stronghold in Abyan province earlier in the year, to fight the Houthis. Mohammed Ali Marem, the director of Hadi’s office in Aden, said:
There are no AQAP members in the city. This is just a media campaign against Aden, to create a rumour that Aden is still unstable and not safe. However, I myself visited al-Tawahi area and the port area, and I did not see AQAP members. All the fighters in Aden fought under the umbrella of the Southern Resistance with one goal, to drive the Houthi rebels from the city.