Overview: Throughout 2017, al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS-Yemen have continued to exploit the political and security vacuum created by the ongoing conflict between the Yemeni government under President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi and Houthi-forces. A Saudi-led coalition of 10 member states continued its air campaign to restore the legitimacy of the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) that started in March 2015. The ROYG, in partnership with the Saudi-led Coalition, controlled the majority of Yemeni territory at the end of 2017, including the population centers of Aden, Mukalla, Ta'izz, and Al Ghaydah. Houthi forces controlled the capital of Sana'a. AQAP's area of influence has increased since the onset of the civil war.

The ROYG under President Hadi cooperated with the U.S. government on counterterrorism efforts. However, because of the instability and violence in Yemen, the ROYG cannot effectively enforce counterterrorism measures. A large security vacuum persists, which gives AQAP and ISIS-Yemen more room to operate. Counterterrorism gains in 2017 removed several key leaders and decreased AQAP's freedom of movement, but AQAP and ISIS-Yemen continue to carry out terrorist attacks throughout government-held territory. In southern Yemen, UAE forces continued to play a vital role in counterterrorism efforts.

ISIS-Yemen remained considerably smaller in size and influence compared to AQAP, but remained operationally active. ISIS-Yemen attacks increased in late 2017, exploiting the tenuous security environment in Aden. The United States conducted successful airstrikes against two ISIS-Yemen training camps – its first against the group – in October 2017.

2017 Terrorist Incidents: AQAP and ISIS-Yemen terrorists carried out hundreds of attacks throughout Yemen in 2017. Methods included suicide bombers, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), ambushes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. The following list details only a small fraction of the incidents that occurred:

  • On March 27, government forces killed an AQAP suicide bomber driving a VBIED directed at a local government compound in al-Houta, southern Yemen. After neutralizing the VBIED, security forces clashed with militants who were dressed in military uniforms and armed with automatic weapons. Six security personnel and five attackers died in the fighting.

  • On November 5, ISIS-Yemen launched an attack on the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) building in the Khormaksar district of Aden. An ISIS militant detonated a VBIED outside the building, followed by armed men storming the facility. The car bomb and ensuing clashes killed at least 15 people, mostly Yemeni security personnel.

  • On November 14, ISIS-Yemen detonated a car bomb in a suicide mission targeting forces in Aden, Sheikh Othman district, killing at least six people and causing scores of injuries. ISIS-Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, naming the suicide bomber as Abu Hagar al-Adani, a Yemeni national.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There have been no significant changes in legislation, law enforcement, or border security in Yemen since 2016. Yemen does not have comprehensive counterterrorism legislation and no progress was made due to the state of unrest and the fact that most of Yemen's government remains in exile outside of Yemen. Due to a lack of resources and organization, police forces throughout the country struggle to exert authority.

Draft counterterrorism legislation has been pending in the parliament since 2008. This legislation has remained at a standstill due to the lack of a legitimate parliament. Prior to the political instability in the capital, the draft was under review by the three parliamentary subcommittees responsible for counterterrorism law issues (Legal and Constitutional Affairs; Security and Defense; and Codification of Sharia Law). This law would facilitate the detention of suspects and include mandatory sentencing for a number of terrorism-related crimes. There have been no clear moves to implement legal structures compliant with UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2178 (2014), relating to countering foreign terrorists, due to the ongoing conflict. There are limited commercial flights operating out of airports in Yemen and the government did not have the capacity or resources to implement UNSCR 2309 mandates on aviation security.

Prior to March 2015, the National Security Agency and President's Office drafted a National Counterterrorism Strategy. This draft was reviewed by a Ministerial Committee, but the committee was unable to finalize its task due to developments in the country. Therefore, Yemen's National Counterterrorism Strategy had not been officially adopted or implemented by the end of 2017.

Yemen employs the U.S.-provided Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) in an effort to secure borders and identify fraudulent travel documents. In consultation with the ROYG, the United States relaunched in December 2017 bilateral discussions to upgrade and expand PISCES in ROYG-controlled areas. In spite of the conflict, Yemen has been able to maintain traveler screening at a limited number of points of entry.

In past years, the Yemeni government's coast guard played a critical role in interdicting weapons and other illegal materials destined for Yemen-based terrorist groups, although Yemen's maritime borders remained extremely porous due to a lack of capacity. The central southern coast remains highly vulnerable to maritime smuggling of weapons, materials, and goods used to sustain AQAP and other terrorist activities. During 2017, the United States planned multiple training courses for coast guard personnel. These courses, funded by the State Department's Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) Program, provided hands-on training to conduct illicit weapons interdiction operations at sea and in port, focusing on conventional weapons, explosives, ammunition, MANPADS, ballistic missile components, and WMD materials. U.S. partners provided training and technical assistance in a number of counterterrorism-related areas, although the conflict hampered in-country efforts in 2017.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Yemen is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. These measures are the first coordinated effort under the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), co-chaired by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Due to a lack of judicial capacity and territorial control, the Yemeni government is unable to unilaterally implement UN Security Council resolutions related to terrorist financing. After Houthi forces occupied the Sana'a-based Central Bank of Yemen in 2015, the government moved the bank's headquarters to Aden in September 2016.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Due to the conflict in Yemen, the ROYG had no CVE initiatives. Before hostilities escalated in 2014, the government-developed Comprehensive National Counterterrorism Strategy included social measures to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of terrorism and a planned de-radicalization center based on the Mohammed bin Nayef Counseling and Care Center. As noted previously, the Houthi coup halted the implementation of these measures.

International and Regional Cooperation: The ROYG continued to cooperate with and be advised by the Gulf Cooperation Council, the United States, and other donor countries as it focused on working towards a peaceful solution to the conflict. Despite the challenges, the ROYG remained an international partner as it worked to reestablish rule of law within the territory it holds. Along with the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Yemen developed the Yemen Security Working Group in 2017. The working group includes high-level military and diplomatic representatives from the three member states, which have developed several cooperative capacity-building initiatives for Yemeni military and security forces, particularly regarding border security and border management. Yemen also belongs to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League.


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