Gunmen believed to be affiliated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) attempted to stop and kidnap two German diplomats in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday. The gunmen opened fire when the Germans’ car refused to stop, and one diplomat was shot in the leg, according to Reuters.
The kidnapping attempt comes as the Yemen military began an assault against AQAP in Yemen’s desolate Mahfad border region on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, which is an AQAP stronghold.
The political attaché and a staff member of the German Embassy managed to escape the gunmen who tried to block a road near the German embassy with a four-wheel-drive vehicle without license plates. One witness told Reuters the diplomat’s car did not stop when the gunmen’s vehicle tried to block the road. Despite heavy shooting, the diplomats escaped with what was described as a light injury.
As a U.S. ally, Yemen is trying to overcome nearly three years of political turmoil which began when protests erupted in 2011 against Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33 years in office. Saleh stepped down, but in the political vacuum, AQAP has expanded.
Local Yemeni news sources reported that a significant military force, including bulldozers, armored vehicles, military teams, and Defense Ministry and military soldiers are seeking to recapture the lawless border region of al Mahfad that has not been under the government’s control for over four years.
The provinces of Shabwa and Abyan, which surround the al Mahfad district, were largely under AQAP control from May 2011 till May 2012 when a Yemeni military offensive pushed AQAP militants underground. That offensive also spurred AQAP to move into the border region in al Mahfad to establish their stronghold in June 2012.
The new Yemeni government offensive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula comes on the heels of three successful US drone strikes last week that supposedly killed over 60 militants from the terrorist organization. Yemeni “Popular Committees,” local armed resistance groups which played a large role alongside the military in pushing out AQAP and Ansar al Shariah, another al Qaeda local affiliate, from Abyan province in 2011, claimed that AQAP militants seized hospitals in order to treat those wounded in the barrage of strikes. Reports from those hospitals have confirmed that AQAP fighters brought their own doctors, some of whom were non-Arab, to the hospitals.
Kidnapping of foreigners in Yemen is common. Senior foreign business and diplomatic personnel represent high-value targets for militant groups as they can be ransomed for money or held as political leverage. Most kidnappings end peacefully with the hostages being freed unharmed, but things may have been different with approximately 1,500 Yemeni government troops and American drones facing hundreds of al Qaeda fighters.
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