Growing risk to southern commercial ports and coalition vessels in Yemen’s territorial waters

Key Points

-The attack on Mukalla's commercial port marks the first boat-borne attack targeting the coalition since the start of the conflict.

-Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has expressly threatened the UAE following the group's expulsion from Mukalla in April 2016. The frequency of IED, shooting, and suicide attacks targeting security checkpoints in Mukalla have increased steadily since then.

-Commercial ports and airports in Aden and Mukalla, and coalition warships, coastguard, and logistics vessels are likely targets for jihadists in southern Yemen. There is a considerably lower risk of successful attacks on coalition-controlled oil export terminals in Aden or Ash Shihr, east of Mukalla, used for military, commercial, and humanitarian aid deliveries. UN-commissioned humanitarian aid vessels remain an unlikely target for AQAP, although the risk of misidentification, or deliberate targeting of such vessels by the Islamic State, is elevated.

EVENT

Yemeni forces defended against boat-borne attacks by unidentified jihadists, who targeted the commercial port inside Mukalla city on 2 August 2016, according to UAE media, as several improvised explosive device- (IED)-laden boats reportedly exploded after exchanges of fire with coastguard vessels patrolling the port.

Abu Dhabi-based news channel, Sky News Arabia, citing military sources, reported that small fishing vessels, which approached Mukalla's commercial port in the southeast of the city, originated from Abyan province. The Abyan coastal province is one of AQAP's long-standing rural strongholds in Yemen, and the group's political wing, Ansar al-Sharia, temporarily declared an Islamic Emirate based in the provincial capital Zinjibar, and in Ja'ar between March 2011 and May 2012.

Coalition Apache helicopters were scrambled in Mukalla shortly after the 2 August 2016 attack and naval reinforcements arrived to help secure the port. Neither Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), or the Islamic State have claimed the attack to date, although UAE authorities attributed it to AQAP and announced the arrest of some of the attackers.

Source: IHS