SANA'A // A security officer and two suspected al Qa'eda gunmen were killed yesterday in the second attack in a month targeting intelligence service buildings in southern Yemen. Five other policemen were injured in the raid in Zinjibar city in the province of Abyan that also hit an adjoining police building, the ministry of defence website reported.
However, local sources said that four people including two militants were killed in the attack and that the surviving attackers managed to take the body of one of their dead and escape in three vehicles. The sources also said that about 11 people were injured in the gun battle between the police and the assailants. Yesterday's assault comes after al Qa'eda militants attacked security offices in Aden last month and is the latest in a series that analysts believe is an escalation in the confrontation between the government and the extremists.
"Such mounting attacks by al Qa'eda show a growing escalation and tension between the government and the militants after the direct involvement of the US in the war on al Qa'eda militants through some air strikes carried out by US drones in Abyan and Mareb," said Saeed Thabet, a freelance writer and specialist on Islamist movements. "This involvement of the US drones has provoked the militants to change their policy, which was focused on targeting western interests, to targeting the government itself for facilitating and assisting the Americans in their attacks on them.
"We, therefore, expect to see more of such attacks in the future," said Mr Thabet. According to the defence ministry's website, more than 20 suspected al Qa'eda militants attacked the building of Yemen's Political Security intelligence agency with bombs and rocket-propelled grenades at about 8am yesterday. The website said they planned to kill top officers. The gunmen attacked the intelligence headquarters from a nearby girls' school. The ministry said seven militants were captured, along with the vehicle carrying the assailants. Inside, police found explosive belts, military uniforms, masks and different types of bombs.
The shooting between the attackers and security men at the intelligence building continued for about 20 minutes, local sources said, adding that some of the attackers were clad in clothes similar to those of Afghans and they chanted: "God is great" and jihadist slogans. The attacks took place as security forces were queuing for morning marches, a local official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media.
The official said the attack might be in response to an arrest campaign launched against suspected jihadists in Abyan following the murder of an army officer and intelligence commander in the province earlier this month. Following the two incidents, police arrested several al Qa'eda suspects. Last month al Qa'eda attackers raided the southern regional headquarters of the intelligence service in the port city of Aden, killing 11 people.
Earlier this month, the al Qa'eda branch in Yemen claimed responsibility for the June 19 attack and said it was revenge for government military operations in the province of Mareb. The organisation alleged in a statement on a militant website that it had killed "not less than 24 officers and soldiers" in the Aden attack. The statement by Yemen's al Qa'eda affiliate better known as al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula, which was created from the merger of the organisation's wings in Yemen and Saudi Arabia in early 2009, also refuted government claims that the alleged mastermind behind the attack had been captured.
The group also threatened a "disastrous" response to a government strike in a remote mountainous area in Abyan in December in which 41 civilians were killed and dozens wounded. In late May, Jabir al Shabwani, the deputy governor of Mareb, was accidentally killed along with four of his bodyguards in another botched air strike targeting an al Qa'eda hideout in the province. Al Shabwani had been acting as a mediator for the government and had been trying to persuade al Qa'eda militants in Mareb to hand themselves over.
The deaths sparked a string of revenge attacks in the province by members of the Al Abidah tribe. Mustafa Alani, of the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, said the attacks on intelligence buildings mark a change in al Qa'eda policy. "We're entering a stage where there is a real, face-to-face confrontation between the security community and al Qa'eda," Mr al Ani told Reuters. The militants "want to demoralise Yemen's security community and paralyse their operations". "They want to show they are up to the challenge."