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Al-Qaeda attack in Yemen kills 2 members of southern forces

The attack is the first by al-Qaeda in Yemen since its leader on the Arabian Peninsula died.
Security forces deploy near Aden International Airport in Yemen's southern city on April 14, 2023 during a prisoner exchange between the internationally recognised-government and the Sanaa-based Huthi rebels.

An al-Qaeda attack in Yemen left two members of a southern secessionist movement’s forces dead, officials said Sunday night, representing the continued threat posed by the group in the Arabian Peninsula after the death of its leader.

The Southern Armed Forces said that al-Qaeda attacked a patrol from their forces in the area of southern Wadi Omran, located in Yemen’s Abyan province, sparking clashes. Two members of the Southern Armed Forces were killed in the attack, along with an unspecified number of al-Qaeda fighters, they said in a statement.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed credit for the attack, The Associated Press reported.

The Southern Armed Forces are loyal to the Southern Transitional Council (STC). The council formed in 2017 and advocates for the secession of southern Yemen. The United Arab Emirates supports the STC.

The STC is formally aligned with the internationally recognized, Saudi-backed Yemeni government against the Iran-backed Houthis, but the two clashed in the years following the council’s formation. In 2022, the STC joined Yemen’s presidential council, thereby reducing tensions with the government, Al-Monitor’s correspondent in Yemen reported at the time.

Why it matters: The ambush constitutes the first attack by AQAP since the death of its leader, Khalid Batarfi, earlier this month, according to Agence France-Presse. Al-Qaeda did not say the cause of Batarfi’s death and designated Saad al-Awlaki as his successor.

AQAP formed in 2009 via a merger of fighters in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It has attacked the Yemeni government, the STC and the Houthis since the start of the Yemeni civil war in 2014.

AQAP has increased its targeting of the STC recently. In 2022, AQAP began to shift its focus from the Houthis to fighting the STC, the conflict data organization ACLED noted in an April 2023 report. In August of last year, Al Jazeera reported that a suspected AQAP attack killed four members of the Security Belt Forces, another group loyal to the STC.

The Southern Armed Forces said in their Sunday statement that they have been pursuing al-Qaeda fighters in remote and mountainous parts of their territory in recent weeks.

Know more: Yemen's civil war has died down since a truce between the government and the Houthis expired in 2022. Talks since then between Saudi Arabia and the Iran-backed group have yet to lead to a formal end to the conflict, however. The Houthi attacks on international shipping in relation to the Gaza war could imperil the Yemeni peace process, Elizabeth Hagedorn wrote for Al-Monitor in November.