Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 June 2019

‘I saw them lay his body on the road, his uniform stained with blood’

The National's correspondent witnesses assassination of Aden's director of security operations by suspected Al Qaeda gunmen.
One of the many bombed out buildings in Aden's Al Tawahi district, which is believed to have been infiltrated by Al Qaeda fighters in recent weeks. Mohammed Al Qalisi for The National
One of the many bombed out buildings in Aden's Al Tawahi district, which is believed to have been infiltrated by Al Qaeda fighters in recent weeks. Mohammed Al Qalisi for The National
ADEN // Three or four gunshots rang out across the busy roundabout. I looked up and saw two men speeding away on a motorbike, their heads wrapped in black scarves.

A crowd gathered around the large, motionless Toyota sedan belonging to Col Abdulhakim Al Sunaidi, the director for security operations in Aden. As I tried to get closer security guards from Yemen’s Southern Resistance movement pushed me away.

Eventually his body was taken from the driving seat and laid down on a mattress on the dusty road, his dark green uniform stained with blood. He had been hit by more than one bullet – a wound in his neck proving to be fatal. In front of me lay the man who had been working to restore security to a city left devastated by an attack and occupation from Houthi rebels from the north.

His seniority within Yemen’s security apparatus had failed to protect him from the suspected Al Qaeda gunmen operating in the late morning in the packed streets of Aden’s Al Mansourah district.

Col Al Sunaidi was driving home alone and without ­bodyguards, just 30 metres from the city’s security headquarters when he was killed. He had been attending a meeting with the city’s other security chiefs just before the attack.

“The gunmen escaped the area,” said Mohammed Mosaed, manager of Aden’s security department, shortly afterwards.

A security source said that the attackers were militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap), adding that security forces were tracking them.

Col Al Sunaidi’s death, along with several other attacks in the past week underline the enormity of the challenge of restoring peace to not just Aden, but the rest of the country torn by conflicts.

Forces loyal to president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, along with Southern Resistance fighters and UAE troops, drove Houthi rebels from the city last month. The rebels attacked Aden in March after taking over the capital, Sanaa, last year and driving out the government.

With the Houthis banished, a fresh threat emerged last week when Al Qaeda militants, who have strongholds in southern Yemen, infiltrated the city’s Al Tawahi district.

The militants were not visible on the streets when walking around the district’s seafront on Friday, but you can hear residents talking about them.

Khalid Saeed, a 25-year-old communications engineer, said it was the first time he had seen Al Qaeda fighters in his neighbourhood and that he was fearful of their presence.

“Sometimes they set up checkpoints in the area, moreover they raise their own flag in the area,” he said, “but they do not remain for a long time in their checkpoints.”

So far there have not been any clashes between the Al Qaeda fighters and the Southern Resistance militias, which formed from young, educated and professional residents of Aden, along with southern tribesmen and some political conservatives, to fight back the Iran-backed Shiite Houthis.

The resistance is also fiercely opposed to the extremist Al Qaeda.

“There is not social acceptance for Aqap members in Al Tawahi as most of the resident reject their existence, and that is why I think it will be easy for the Southern Resistance to expel them from Aden,” Mr Saeed said.

But he called on the Southern Resistance to fight the extremists and prevent them from creating a new centre in Aden, “the Aqap members want to kill the happy of victory in Aden”, he said, referring to the defeat of the Houthis.

While the fighting has not yet started, there have been a number of attacks in recent days blamed on Al Qaeda.

After Col Al Sunaidi’s killing yesterday, there was an assassination attempt on the undersecretary of Aden province that killed his bodyguard.

Last week, a rocket attack on the city governor’s temporary headquarters killed four people and a bombing, claimed by Al Qaeda, destroyed the secret police headquarters in Al Tawahi.

In Yemen’s complex network of conflicts, Al Qaeda members have also fought against the Houthi rebels.

In a recent interview in Abyan city, Jalal Baleedi, a top Aqap leader, said his forces were fighting on 11 fronts and would focus next on fighting and recruitment, moving from southern Yemen to the north to fight the Houthis as they retreat towards Sanaa.

Several residents in Al Tawahi accuse the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was removed from power after Arab Spring protests, of supporting the Al Qaeda members in Al Tawahi. He also sided with the Houthis to overthrow his successor, president Hadi, who remains in exile in Saudi Arabia.

“There are no real Aqap members in Al Tawahi – rather there is a group of people that is trying to create chaos in Aden to confuse the Southern Resistance,” said school teacher Mahmood Mohammed, 32, another resident.

Some Al Qaeda militants had already arrived in Aden from their stronghold in Abyan province earlier in the year to fight the Houthis.

Mohammed Ali Marem, the director of Mr Hadi’s office in Aden, said there were no Aqap members in the city.

“This is just a media campaign against Aden to create a rumour that Aden is still unstable and not safe. However I myself visited Al Tawahi area and the port area and I did not see Aqap members.”

He said all the fighters in Aden had fought under the umbrella of the Southern Resistance with one goal – to drive the Houthi rebels from the city.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Updated: August 30, 2015 04:00 AM

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