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Al-Qaeda says it targeted US’s Yemen drone base

Published time: October 14, 2013 13:49
Edited time: October 14, 2013 14:41
Honour guards carry the coffins of soldiers and policemen killed in recent attacks during a funeral procession in Sanaa September 22, 2013. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Honour guards carry the coffins of soldiers and policemen killed in recent attacks during a funeral procession in Sanaa September 22, 2013. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Al-Qaeda in Yemen said an attack on an army base in the country’s southeast last month was targeting an operations room used by the US to direct drone strikes against militants. The Jihadist group threatened that similar assaults could follow.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) blamed the Yemeni government for converting a number of its military facilities in recent years into "intelligence and operations rooms to direct the war against the Mujahideen [holy fighters] and operate pilotless planes," Reuters reports.

"Such joint security targets, which participate with the Americans in their war on the Muslim people, are a legitimate target for our operations, and we will puncture these eyes that the enemy uses," the group said in a message posted on Shumukh al-Islam, an Islamist website, referring to last month’s attack.

"The Mujahideen have directed a harsh blow to one of these headquarters,"
the statement said.

On Sept. 30, dozens of gunmen stormed and captured the headquarters of the Yemeni army's second division in the eastern city of al-Mukalla, taking military personnel hostage. Military officials said four Yemeni soldiers were killed and nine injured in the ensuing effort to retake the base.

AQAP said scores of officers were killed in the three-day assault and the operations room was destroyed. The group did not mention if any American personnel were present in the facility at the time of the attack, and no reports have surfaced of foreigners being killed. The authenticity of the statement could not be verified.

A Yemeni official denied that the army base contained a joint US-Yemeni operations room, saying its function is to prevent piracy in nearby Arabian Sea lanes.

"The command and control room in Mukalla was equipped and tasked to counter piracy in addition to monitoring and securing shipping routes in the Arabian Sea," the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

AQAP, formed by a merger of Al-Qaeda’s Saudi and Yemeni branches, is regarded by the United States as one of the most active branches of the decentralized global terrorist network. Its stated goal is to establish an Islamic-run caliphate in Yemen and the Middle East free of non-Muslim influence.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project said “The most direct threat to the US homeland today emanates from AQAP, which has attempted to attack the United States homeland at least three times since its establishment in January 2009.”

AQAP has been implicated in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed 2009 Christmas Day “underwear” bombing on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, Faisal Shahzad's attempted 2010 Times Square bombing, and a failed plot to down cargo flights bound for Chicago.

AQAP has also been accused of a failed 2009 assassination attempt on a Saudi prince and the British ambassador in the capital Sanaa. In May 2012, a suicide bomber killed more than 100 Yemeni soldiers rehearsing for a military parade.
Yemen, whose weak central government has made the country a haven for Jihadists, has also become an epicenter for the United States’ controversial drone war.

Critics of the Obama administration’s use of unmanned aircraft say civilian causalities in the country are driving civilians toward supporting Al-Qaeda.

After more than a decade of US counterterrorism efforts and drone strikes in Yemen, the number of Al-Qaeda militants in the country has grew from a few hundred in 2010 to more than 1,000 in 2012, CIA director and US former anti-terror chief John Brennan said.

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