A Conference Call, Drones And a Foiled Plot: A Guide to the Confusion in Yemen

The past few days have seen a burst of activity in Yemen. What’s going on?


The past few days saw a burst of activity in Yemen: drone strikes, evacuations, a wire-tapped conference call of al Qaeda leadership, and a supposedly foiled terror plot. A lot of important events, all on the heels of each other, and, as of yet, there’s no clear thread tying them all neatly together. We’re going to try to sort through what happened, in chronological order, starting with:

Al Qaeda Conference Call

In a report on Sunday, McClatchy wrote that intelligence agents intercepted a phone call between a large number of high-ranking al Qaeda figures, including the organization’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Speaking to the Huffington Post, McClatchy’s Washington bureau chief James Asher said that the intercepted phone call “was pretty much common knowledge in Yemen.”

The phone call, says the Daily Beast, was a conference call between al-Zawahiri and more than 20 other al Qaeda members. On the call, the people “discussed in vague terms plans for a pending attack and mentioned that a team or teams were already in place for such an attack.”

On Monday, more news came out about the plot, “which is reportedly in its final stages,” says the Atlantic Wire.

Embassy Shutdowns Around the World

This past weekend the U.S. closed its embassies in 21 countries, says McClatchy, over worries of the “unspecific threats.” The closings were prompted, says the newspaper, because of worries sparked by the conference call.

Yesterday’s Yemen Evacuations

With the embassy closings already in effect, the situation yesterday seemed to grow more urgent when the staff from U.S. and British embassies were evacuated early in the morning, says the Associated PressStars and Stripes said the evacuation was for “non-essential U.S. government civilian personnel” and took place “in the face of a threat of terrorist attacks emanating from al-Qaida elements operating on the Arabian Peninsula.”

With the evacuations ongoing, says the AP, “Yemeni authorities launched a wide investigation into the al-Qaida threat to multiple potential targets in the impoverished Arab nation.”

Drone Strikes Kill Suspected al Qaeda Members

On Tuesday, a U.S. drone shot a missile at a car occupied by four people. “One of the dead was believed to be Saleh Jouti, a senior al-Qaida member,” says the AP.

The drone strike, says Salon, comes “within the context of an uptick in drone strikes in Yemen of late.”

That strike was followed by a second, says CNN, which took place today and killed six people: “A local security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN that he does not believe any of those killed Wednesday were senior al-Qaeda members.”

“It was unclear” says CNN, “whether Tuesday’s strikes were related to the security alert in place in the country since U.S. officials intercepted a message from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to operatives in Yemen telling them to “do something.”

A Foiled Terror Plot

Today, Yemeni officials say that they stopped a terror plot organized by al Qaeda, the one talked about in the conference call. The New York Times:

Yemeni security officials said part of the militant operation included a plan to take control of the Mina al-Dhaba oil terminal, which is run by Canada, in the Mukallah region on the Arabian Sea in the country’s southeast. The officials did not say how the plot had been disrupted.

The plan would have involved many Qaeda operatives wearing Yemeni Army uniforms to seize the port and then attack, kill or kidnap foreigners working there, the officials said.

As the BBC reports it, the plot could have been much more elaborate:

Yemeni government spokesman Rajeh Badi said the plot involved blowing up oil pipelines and taking control of certain cities – including two ports in the south, one of which accounts for the bulk of Yemen’s oil exports and is where a number of foreign workers are employed.

“There were attempts to control key cities in Yemen like Mukala and Bawzeer,” said Mr Badi.

What’s Next?

According to the BBC, “the US is reported to be preparing special operations forces for possible strikes against al-Qaeda in Yemen.”

The BBC’s Abdullah Ghorab, in Sanaa, says there are unprecedented security measures in the capital, with hundreds of armoured vehicles deployed around the city.

Tanks and troops have surrounded foreign missions, government offices and the airport, and senior officials are being advised to limit their movements.

A human rights advocate in Sanaa, Samia Haddad, told the BBC’s World Update programme that the atmosphere in the city was tense.

“Everybody is feeling that there is something going on, but nobody knows what is going on exactly,” she said.

There is a lot of activity and a lot of confusion about events among which the connection is not yet entirely clear. One way or another, this is going to play out over the coming days.

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