On Monday June 27th, just as the residents of Mukallah, Yemen were about to break the fast of Ramadan, three bombs exploded; the first was a suicide bomb, the second, a car bomb, and the third, a triggered explosive device. The death toll is estimated to be at 42, mostly Yemeni soldiers. The first explosion occurred at a military checkpoint in the west of the city while the second took place in front of the city’s military intelligence headquarters; the third was carried out outside of a restaurant where senior Yemeni military officers were about to have dinner. The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State.
The city of Mukallah has a long history of conflict. Given its status as a major shipping and shopping center in the gulf state, Mukallah stood at the center of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula’s territory, which included approximately 600 km of coastline on the Arabian Sea.
But in April, a coalition of Yemeni and Emirati soldiers took back Mukallah and the surrounding area, and it has been under their control since. Despite this, Al-Qaeda retains a large presence in nearby areas.
This is not the first time that IS has struck Mukallah; in May, the Islamic State orchestrated two attacks, one of which killed 41 police recruits in the coastal town.
Yemen has been in a civil war since last year, when the Iran-backed Shia Houthi Rebels launched a coup against the Saudi Arabia-backed government of Sunni leader Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. The Houthis currently control the western part of the country, including Sana’a, the Yemeni capital. To the east, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) controls the central eastern part of the country and opposes both the Yemeni Government and the Houthi Rebels. To further complicate things is the Islamic State, which seeks to supplant AQAP as the leading Sunni jihadist force in Yemen and has carried out attacks against various groups including the Houthi Rebels and the Yemeni government.
The conflict in Yemen is emblematic of a larger Sunni-Shia conflict but also of regional disputes. By supporting the Houthi Rebels, Iran hopes to set up its Shia proxy on the Saudi border and threaten the Red Sea. Saudi Arabia, understanding the negative implications that this could have for its regional influence in the Gulf States, has sent in troops to combat the Houthi Rebels. On a political level, IS seeks to systematically supplant the Houthis, AQAP, and the Yemeni Government. These attacks are likely an attempt to assert their presence in the region, sending the message that they pose a credible threat.
This strike is typical of IS’s recent attacks. In addition to targeting Shia Muslims, IS has actively gone after members of the Yemeni government in Hadi-controlled areas. This marks the Islamic State’s attempt to take a more political approach in Yemen. By targeting members of the government rather than Sunni civilians, they send the message that the government is vulnerable and IS is strong; not targeting Sunni civilians may be a tactical play to enlist more members, making them more likely to ally with the strong Islamic State than with the weak Hadi government.
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