On 6 October, the British deputy ambassador and four other embassy personnel were targeted in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in the capital Sana’a. One of the embassy personnel was slightly injured from shrapnel as were two civilian bystanders. Al-Qaida is being blamed for the attack. It was the second attack on British diplomats in Yemen this year. In April, militants targeted British Ambassador Tim Torlot in a suicide bombing that injured three bystanders. British forces have a fairly high profile in Yemen, playing a key role in economic and political development. Ambassador Torlot, targeted in April’s assassination attempt, is due to be replaced in the coming weeks by Jon Wilks. Wednesday’s attack came after Yemeni authorities boosted security around embassies in the capital city based on intelligence that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was planning new attacks. The group on 25 December 2009 is believed to have been behind the Nigerian ‘underpants bomber’, who attempted to blow up a commercial airplane en route from Chicago to Amsterdam.
Analytical Note: According to Dr Dominic Moran, an expert with The Global Intelligence Report and ISAIntel, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has become emboldened of late, with its Yemen-based claiming responsibility for the April assassination attempt against the British ambassador, the December 2009 commercial jet bombing attempt. Wednesday’s attack is most probably a continuation of al-Qaeda attacks on foreign legations and representatives, which picked up pace over the last couple of years, following the collapse of alleged al-Qaeda understandings with the government after US pressure on Sana’a to step up the fight against the group. The group has also been emboldened by the arrival of al-Qaeda fighters from neighboring Saudi Arabia, following a major crack down there. In the past, the government of Yemen has used al-Qaeda to help fight Houthi rebels – al-Qaeda’s sectarian rivals - in the south. Since late 2009, however, the government, under US pressure, has allegedly severed those links and begun targeting al-Qaeda. But the situation is a complex one, and the government’s relationship with al-Qaeda was an important tool in the al-Houthi rebellion. As such, it is impossible to confirm with any real accuracy whether the government has indeed severed ties with al-Qaeda, or whether its new security sweeps have simply netted low-profile al-Qaeda figures in an attempt to ease US pressure. The increased number of attacks, likely by al-Qaeda forces, however, could signal that the government has indeed been working to sever those ties, which in turns means that more attacks can be expected in the near future.