Security Brief: CENTCOM Week of June 21, 2021
Week of Monday, June 21, 2021 | Issue 37
Yechezkel Mehlman, Marco Parks, Filipe Neves, Eleonore Thibaud, Cameron Price, CENTCOM Team
Yemeni Civil War
Date: June 17, 2021
Location: Shabwa Province, Yemen
Parties involved: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); Yemeni Government; Houthi rebel group; United States; Saudi Arabia
The event: On June 17, 2021, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) kidnapped six government security personnel in the southern province of Shabwa, Yemen. The Yemeni branch endured years of setbacks after intense US drone campaigns, while the country was devastated by violence between the Iran-backed Houthis militia and the internationally recognized government supported by Saudi Arabia. As the Houthis have been escalating their offensives in Marib city, AQAP has seized the opportunity to rise again.
The security vacuum created by the ongoing offensives in the oil-rich Marib governorate has enabled AQAP to regenerate its resources and resolve. This pattern has occurred a few times in the past decade, as the instability arising from the conflict enabled AQAP to regain territory and grow as an organization. Marib has been AQAP’s main stronghold for decades, retaining significant influence in local communities amid its weakening after the death of its leader, Qasim al-Raymi, in February 2020. It is likely that after al-Raymi’s death the group has maintained its focus on training fighters and rebuilding relations with local tribes to re-establish its power in Yemen, whilst tensions have escalated between the Houthis rebels and the Yemeni forces.
AQAP’s kidnapping of government personnel, which is the first incident of its kind in years, signifies a continuation and possible escalation of the terror group’s financing efforts. In addition to theft, oil and gas, and external donations, AQAP yields revenue from kidnapping-ransom operations—between 2011 and 2013, AQAP received approximately $30 million in ransom payments. Given the predicted abatement of Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign, this kidnapping is likely part of a broader AQAP effort to increase funding, thus facilitating its opportunistic exploitation of insecurity. The kidnapping of government personnel enables the group to demand more money for their release, rather than demanding ransom money from the inevitably impoverished family of a kidnapped civilian “infidel.” Coupled with the deepening security vacuum in Yemen, the nature of this kidnapping suggests with roughly even odds that AQAP is attempting to stockpile funds for a large-scale attack in Yemen or possibly abroad targeting Western (especially American) assets. The January 7, 2015 attack against the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, which killed 12 people and injured 11, is a testament to AQAP’s capabilities to conduct external operations. Though, further intelligence is necessary to fortify (or contest) this assessment.
 Yemeni capital Sanaa after airstrikes, 9 October 2015 by Almigdad Mojalli/VOA, Wikipedia licensed under Public Domain
 Yaya J. Fanusie, Alex Entz, “Terror Finance Briefing Book” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, July 2017, https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/defenddemocracy/uploads/documents/CSIF_TFBB_AQAP_web.pdf.