The Obama administration considers al-Qaeda’s Yemen franchise a key threat to the United States. The branch, known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has been implicated in a 2009 attempt to bomb an airplane flying to Detroit; a 2010 plot to send parcel bombs to Chicago via cargo planes; and a foiled scheme to send a suicide bomber on a U.S.-bound plane last month.
The United States has dramatically escalated a campaign of airstrikes in Yemen this year, with as many as 21 missile attacks on al-Qaeda elements since January. U.S. Special Operations teams have expanded their role in advising and providing intelligence to the Yemeni military as it launches assaults on militant positions in the south.
In some ways, Monday’s attack was reminiscent of the violent outbursts in Pakistan that accompanied Islamabad’s alignment with the United States against terrorist groups. President Obama alluded to that parallel in remarks he made in Chicago, where he was attending a NATO summit.
Yemen “is attracting a lot of folks that previously might have been in the FATA before we started putting pressure on them there,” Obama said, referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan, where al-Qaeda was based. “We’re going to continue to work with the Yemeni government to try to identify AQAP leadership and operations and try to thwart them.”
‘Start of a jihad project ‘
The assailant in Monday’s attack was a soldier participating in a military parade rehearsal in Sanaa’s al-Sabeen Square, security officials said. He blew himself up about 10 a.m. as the troops were listening to the national anthem, minutes before the defense minister was to deliver a speech. The minister and top military commanders are thought to have escaped injury. Most of those killed were soldiers.
In a statement sent to the Reuters news agency, AQAP asserted responsibility, saying the attack was revenge for what it called the U.S. war on its followers in southern Yemen. AQAP said it sought to assassinate the defense minister and other top commanders at the parade rehearsal. The group also warned of more attacks.
“We will take revenge, God willing, and the flames of war will reach you everywhere, and what happened is but the start of a jihad project in defense of honor and sanctities,” said the statement, which was addressed to Yemeni military commanders.
U.S. intelligence officials said that they consider AQAP’s assertion of responsibility credible but that analysts at the CIA and other agencies were still reviewing information about the attack.