Shabwa officials scramble to increase security after Friday attacks
SHABWA, Sept. 23—The marine brigade assigned to protect Bilhaf liquefied natural gas fields in Shabwa, located almost 500 km. east of Sana’a, has redistributed its forces in order to protect the national revenue source against future potential attacks.
Bilhaf fields is the nation’s largest gas export outlet. It’s destruction could deliver a huge blow to the nation’s economy.
Deputy Security Manager of Shabwa governorate Mubarak Lazlam said the twin attacks on Friday in which 22 soldiers died and 18 soldiers were injured, has forced security officials to come up with new strategies to combat Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the extremist militant group believed to be behind the violence.
“We have stationed soldiers along the coastal line and surrounding the oil field since Saturday,” Lazlam said. “We did not cover these areas before this intensely, but the terrorist attacks have made us extremely alert.”
The security official emphasized that his forces are still having problems covering the governorate’s entry points as well as rural and remote areas, leaving the area vulnerable to future attacks.
Friday’s attackers are believed not to be from Shabwa but from the Al-Mahfad district, in Abyan governorate.
“They received help and intelligence from elements inside Shabwa, but they weren’t locals,” said Nasser Al-Malesh, Shabwa’s deputy governor.
The nation’s security forces have expressed concern that the attackers were able to return to Abyan after the assault.
“Controlling Shabwa’s border with Abyan is a priorty, and we hope to get it done in the coming days,” said Lazlam.
In an effort to increase security, there are currently three stationed state military brigades in Shabwa, including a marine brigade specifically assigned to protect the Bilhaf oil fields. Moreover, another two army brigades are based in the governorate’s capital Ataq and are responsible for maintaining overall security in the governorate.
On Friday morning, in the first of the two attacks, soldiers came under fire and a car bomb exploded in the Maifa’a district in a security zone where 70 soldiers should have been stationed but only a reported 30 were on duty because of the weekend, according to Al-Milesh.
There have been no reports on the number of suspected AQAP affiliates involved in the incident, but officials have said eight soldiers were killed.
Al-Milesh said soldiers tried to call for backup but reinforcements were not sent in time.
A second car bomb also exploded Friday morning in a security zone in Radhoom district, about 40 km. from Bilhaf oil fields. Security forces were also came under heavy fire, killing 14 soldiers and injuring another 18.
Security analyst Mohammed Al-Khaled argues that these attacks are in retaliation for AQAP losing their strong hold in Abyan after a U.S.-backed military campaign in mid 2012 that drove the militants from the region.
“Since then, [AQAP] have been making regular threats to take revenge,” said Al-Khaled. “However, the state does not take those threats seriously enough and hence the loose control over entry points.”
Shabwa, Al-Khaled says, is an ideal place for AQAP affiliates to flourish because of its terrain that allows for hiding and its concentration of oil fields, that serve as government targets.