SANAA, Yemen – Under a heavy fog, al-Qaida militants disguised in military uniforms launched car bomb attacks on three security and military posts in southern Yemen on Friday, killing 38 soldiers in the group’s biggest attack in the country since last year.
The coordinated attacks point to how al-Qaida is exploiting the continued weakness of Yemen’s military to rally back at a time when the group’s branches across the region grow more assertive. More than two years after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, factions of the group he led are taking advantage of turmoil in multiple Arab nations to expand their presence and influence.
Experts in extremist networks see no clear evidence of coordination between groups under the al-Qaida banner. But gains by one serve as powerful encouragement and recruiting tools for others.
For a time, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was perhaps the most powerful of the terror group’s branches in the region. It carried out a series of attempted attacks on U.S. soil – and Washington branded it as one of the world’s most dangerous terror groups.
In 2011, with Yemen in political turmoil amid the uprising that eventually led to the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, al-Qaida fighters seized control of a string of cities and towns in the south.
It was beaten back in 2012 by a Yemeni military offensive supported by a heavy campaign of U.S. drone strikes. The assaults drove its fighters out of the southern strongholds and into hiding in mountainous regions, from which they harried the Yemeni military with attacks and assassinations.
Friday’s attacks in the southern province of Shabwa, a one-time al-Qaida stronghold, showed the group’s continued capabilities.