AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A Yemeni military commander at the forefront of the fight against terror groups in Yemen for more than a decade was killed in a blast from an explosive device planted by Al-Qaeda in southern Yemen on Thursday.
Brig. Abdul Latif Al-Sayed, commander of the Security Belt forces in Abyan province, was the highest-ranking official to die in the campaign against Al-Qaeda in more than a year.
Al-Sayed and three of his troops were killed when their vehicle was destroyed by an IED planted by Al-Qaeda in the Omaran valley.
The Yemeni commander was inspecting forces sent into mountainous terrain in the Moudia district of Abyan to expel Al-Qaeda militants from their strongholds.
The pro-independence Security Belt, backed by various military and security units loyal to the Southern Transitional Council, launched an offensive in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa a year ago, targeting Al-Qaeda militants using rural and remote mountain areas in the two provinces as havens.
Al-Qaeda has employed lethal guerrilla tactics against the advancing troops, planting land mines and roadside bombs, and carrying out hit-and-run attacks.
More than 100 soldiers, including some field commanders, have died in the attacks.
Mohammed Al-Naqeeb, a spokesman for pro-independence southern forces, told Arab News that Al-Sayed’s death will not deter troops from their operations against Al-Qaeda.
“We will not retreat from our war against terrorism, despite the high cost. Each time a commander receives the honor of martyrdom, our ground forces make significant advances,” he said.
Al-Naqeeb said that southern forces have advanced into mountainous regions in Abyan in the past three days, seizing control of a Al-Qaeda base in the Al-Janan valley.
Al-Sayed was born in the Khanfar region of Abyan in 1972 and was a member of Al-Qaeda until defecting in 2012. Using his knowledge of the terror group, he founded armed groups in Abyan to help the army in its fight.
Early in 2015, when the Houthis advanced into the southern province, Al-Sayed relocated his fighters from Abyan to Aden to repel the militants.
Al-Qaeda tried to kill Al-Sayed more than 10 times and executed some of his relatives in an effort to force him to surrender.
Local and international terrorism experts believe Al-Sayed’s death will severely affect military operations against Al-Qaeda, despite security and military officials’ assurances that they will continue the fight.
“His passing is a devastating setback to efforts to combat terrorism, especially in Aden and Abyan,” Fatehi bin Lazerq, editor of Aden Al-Ghad newspaper, told Arab News.
Al-Sayed’s significance “extended far beyond his role as a security official, so his passing will have a major effect,” Lazerq said.
After the liberation of Aden from the Houthis in July 2015, Al-Sayed took part in military operations across Aden and the neighboring province of Abyan to expel Al-Qaeda and Daesh militants who exploited the chaos to seize control of areas in both provinces.
Elisabeth Kendall, a terrorism expert and mistress of Girton College at the University of Cambridge in the UK, told Arab News that in addition to being a severe setback for anti-Al-Qaeda troops, Al-Sayed’s killing represents a significant triumph for Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, often known as AQAP, which had been hunting him for years.
“On the practical level, (Al-Sayed) has been one of the fiercest opponents of AQAP. On the symbolic level, AQAP has been attempting to assassinate him for around a decade, so achieving this at last is a significant boost, particularly to AQAP in Abyan,” she said.
“His assassination removes one of AQAP’s most capable and driven opponents from the southern arena and will raise AQAP morale.”