Yemen's STC force captures Al Qaeda-linked cell responsible for deadly attacks against troops

Al Qaeda members admit to recent attack that killed seven Southern Transitional Council soldiers in southern Yemen

FILE PHOTO: Security forces loyal to the separatist Southern Transitional Council stand next to vehicles as they are deployed in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen December 20, 2020. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
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Security Belt Forces in southern Yemen on Sunday said they captured an Al Qaeda-linked cell responsible for a dozen recent attacks against troops in Abyan province.

Last week a bomb attack by militants linked with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or Aqap, hit a lorry carrying soldiers in Zinjubar city, in the southern Yemen province.

Seven soldiers of the SBF, who are fighting for the Southern Transitional Council, were killed and 25 wounded by a blast from a booby-trapped motorbike that was blown up remotely.

"Following the terrorist blast which targeted our soldiers on Friday, a battalion from our forces succeeded in identifying the head of the Aqap-linked cell that orchestrated and carried out Friday's attack," Abyan SBF spokesman Capt Salah Al Yousifi told The National on Sunday.

"The head of the terrorist cell was captured in Zinjubar city on Sunday morning along with another member of the cell."

Capt Al Yousifi said both militants admitted their responsibility for Friday's terrorist attack.

"The interrogation with the head of the cell led us to capture the other 13 members engaged in Friday's attack," he said.

Capt Al Yousifi said many of them admitted responsibility for a dozen attacks on soldiers in Abyan.

Aqap claimed responsibility for recent attacks, mainly in the provinces of Shabwa and Abyan.

On March 18, eight soldiers and four civilians were killed when Aqap militants raided a checkpoint operated by the SBF in the Ahwar district of Abyan province.

On April 6, Aqap claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on a military base in the Balhaf area of Shabwa. It is used by Arab Coalition forces supporting the government.

Foreign security analysts expect that elements of Al Qaeda in Yemen have blended with mainstream extremists, because not all of the recent attacks in southern Yemen were claimed by Aqap.

"Abyan province is a traditional Al Qaeda stronghold and the recent spate of attacks against Security Belt forces there bear the hallmarks of Al Qaeda operations," Dr Elisabeth Kendall, Yemen expert at the University of Oxford, told The National.

"But Al Qaeda has formally claimed only a couple of them on its official channels.

"This suggests that elements of Al Qaeda have blended with more mainstream militias who are hostile to those forces loyal to the STC.

"In Abyan, there is also an unusually long time lag between an operation occurring and Al Qaeda claiming it. This implies that Al Qaeda may be following, rather than leading."