AQAP’s July 4 Attack Calls for Heightened Concern
On July 4, a group of six fighters reportedly attacked the al-Wadia border post, two of whom managed to enter the Saudi city of Sharurah and blew themselves up after police surrounded them inside a government building. Two days later, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a set of pictures featuring scenes from the attack.
The nine pictures, which were distributed on Twitter and jihadi forums on July 6, 2014 as a claim for the attack, were given the title, “Invasion of Revenge for the Female Captives” in reference to the Saudi government’s detainment of female, al-Qaeda-linked prisoners.
This July 4 attack by AQAP takes on new significance in light of the group’s activity for the past five years. The two reported suicide attackers that made it from Yemen into Sharurah mark AQAP’s first attack on Saudi soil since 2009's attempted assassination of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, signaling that AQAP’s current campaign against U.S.-affiliated military targets is not limited to just one country.
Over the course of this past year, individual attacks and statements by AQAP have echoed the ones that came before them, revealing an enduring timetable of the group’s bloody campaign against “the Western Crusader enemy led by America” and any military establishment “cooperating with the Americans in the drone operations”—taking place strictly within Yemeni borders.
Just days before, AQAP also claimed credit for the suicide bombing at a military headquarters in the Yemeni city of Sayun along with a raid at a nearby airport and building on June 26, 2014, reportedly killing three Yemeni soldiers.
This campaign began around the time of a raid on the Second Military District headquarters in Yemen's Hadramawt governorate on September 30, 2013 that reportedly killed four Yemeni soldiers—an attack AQAP would take credit for on October 6, 2013. Along with this claim, the group stated that the headquarters, along with other Yemeni sites, aided in U.S. drone strikes and declared:
Such joint security headquarters or participations with the Americans in their war against these Muslim people is a legitimate target of our operations anywhere.
Reiterating the threat two weeks later in a video speech entitled "Statement on the Course of the American War in Yemen”—released on October 27, 2013 by the group’s media wing, al-Malahem Media Foundation—AQAP military official Jalal al-Marqishi (AKA Abu Hamza al-Zinjibari) gave updates on those and other following attacks while establishing a manifesto for the campaign. In the speech, al-Marqishi claimed that the Yemeni army serves as an instrument for American foreign policy and demanded that soldiers rise against Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. He stated:
Our war in its origin and basis is against the Western Crusader enemy led by America, and the operations we carry out against the security and army forces are only within the framework of repulsing the aggression and making the legitimate reaction.
On December 5, 2013, AQAP activated a Twitter account on which they claimed credit for a raid on Yemen’s defense Ministry in Sana’a, killing over 50 people. AQAP argued that those in the Defense Ministry were legitimate targets and that they contain drone control rooms and American operators. The group also further criticized the Yemeni army, stating, “The duty of the army is to defend the country and not pant behind the American desires.”
AQAP continued to reinforce their campaign in the months leading into April. The group claimed credit for a suicide raid at the Yemeni army base in Aden on April 2, wherein 10 AQAP fighters allegedly killed just under 50 soldiers. And, once more, the group referred to the Yemeni military’s cooperation with America, promising:
…to target the joint operation rooms for the management of the American drones wherever we find them and wherever Allah the Almighty facilitates for us the opportunity to destroy them.
More, in a tweet on July 4, AQAP commander Sheikh Makmun Hatim implied further action in the country, referring to the recent July 4 attack in Saudi Arabia as being the “first invasion.” The tweet showed a picture of a recently attacked building and stated in Arabic:
Ansar al-Shariah in Yemen On the Path of destroyer of the walls, first invasion against al-Saloul [the Saudi Royal Family]. May Allah support you and may Allah make it among your sincere deeds # are coming.
AQAP’s campaign focuses on high-profile targets. The group’s ability to attack these well-guarded bases in both Yemen and now in Saudi Arabia—along with its proven persistence and promise to continue—should be of alarm regarding their capabilities. Though Iraq and Syria have engulfed the world’s attention, governments should not lose sight or priority over this group’s campaign. Inattention will not provide us with a break—only another blindside.