Author’s Note: This is Part II of a three-part series on AQAP in Yemen. Part I described the operating environment in Yemen, identified the basic capabilities and background information on AQAP, and summarized basic US counterterrorism efforts.  Part III will discuss the future of Yemen as it pertains to US counterterrorism efforts and the strength of AQAP, as well as possible courses of action AQAP could take as a result of ongoing US operations there.

On 16 September, Yemeni officials announced the conviction of three individuals accused of plotting to kill Yemeni President Hadi and other foreign diplomats—including the US ambassador to Sana’a.  Receiving varying sentences of one, five, and seven-year prison terms, three AQAP operatives were found guilty of surveilling, planning, and preparing to assassinate the president outside of his residence in Sana’a.

While AQAP was thwarted in their recent attempt to assassinate President Hadi, nearly 70 high-ranking Yemeni security and intelligence officials have not been as fortunate.  The purpose of this article is to highlight the success of AQAP assassinations in Yemen, identify a few of their TTPs, and discuss its effect on US foreign policy.

Men work in a shop while a poster of interim president Hadi hangs nearby
Men work in a shop while a poster of interim president Hadi hangs nearby.

Who’s on the Target List

As a security or intelligence official operating in Yemen, the risk of assassination (or at a minimum, being targeted or surveilled by terrorist operatives) presents an imminent threat.  Since 2012, “roughly 60 officials have been killed [in] Yemen,” nearly all of whom were intelligence officers or security officials who worked in the intelligence sector.

This is significant because it demonstrates AQAP intent to degrade Yemeni intelligence collection capabilities and the government’s understanding of the operational environment in Yemen. Given AQAP’s recent targeting of President Hadi, it is evident that AQAP targeting operations cast a wide net, which poses an even greater threat to US counterterrorism strategy in the country and region.

By targeting intelligence officials, AQAP is not only able to degrade the status and health of the Yemeni operational environment but also negatively impact US intelligence and targeting capabilities.  Due to the extensive intelligence-sharing relationship and joint nature of US-Yemeni military operations, AQAP maintains the ability to damage US counterterrorism efforts without ever having to directly target US personnel.  This is a benefit that AQAP leadership has not wasted any time exploiting, as evidenced by AQAP’s impressive targeting success rate.

Areas of Influence graphic in Yemen, courtesy of
Areas of Influence graphic in Yemen, courtesy of

Assassination TTPs and Analysis

During AQAP assassinations, operatives employ a number of tactics that include suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices, and direct fire assaults by gunmen (current events update: read about their most recent deadly attack on 20 September here).

The most frequent, lethal, and flexible tactic of these utilizes some type of assault by gunmen.  As recently as 7 September, this tactic was employed to assassinate two senior Yemeni intelligence officials in two different locations in Yemen.  Open source news reports that Colonel Omer Bin Amer, the Chief of Intelligence for Wadia district along the Saudi borders, was assassinated as he walked out of Al Qatn mosque following his Friday prayers. The second individual, retired intelligence officer Abdul Majid Al-Salami, was gunned down in similar fashion at or near his home in Huta, capital of the southern province of Lahj.