Yemeni Prime Minister escapes assassination attempt

McClatchy Foreign StaffAugust 31, 2013 

— Yemen’s Prime Minister, Mohamed Salim Basindowa, narrowly escaped an apparent assassination attempt Saturday evening, as his armored car came under gunfire en route to his home in an upscale neighborhood in the Yemeni capital.

An aide to Basindowa said that gunmen positioned near the prime minister’s home opened fire on his car as it neared the entrance to the walled compound. They then fled the scene. No one was killed or injured in the attack, the first known attempt on the prime minister’s life.

The central government’s control over much of the country has long been tenuous, but the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring-inspired uprising against Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has seen security markedly deteriorate even in the capital itself.

Outside of Sanaa, Al Qaeda-affiliated militants have appeared to take advantage of the situation, seeming to expand their presence in many rural areas even after a Yemeni military intervention succeeded in pushing aligned fighters out of their former strongholds in the southern Abyan province in June 2012. Simultaneously, despite a series of reforms and reshuffles by Saleh’s successor, Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi, divisions in the Yemeni Armed Forces linger on; they were originally spurred by a series of defections by prominent military officials during the 2011 uprising.

Yemenis across the country have continued to express their displeasure at the continuing security vacuum, which has seen an increase in kidnappings of foreigners, in addition to a series of attacks on the country’s electricity infrastructure by disgruntled tribesmen. Born in the southern city of Aden, Basindowa originally rose to prominence during south Yemen’s struggle against British occupation, heading north after his side lost a factional power battle when the south gained independence. A political independent, Basindowa held ministerial portfolios under Saleh, prior to breaking with the former president and, later, vociferously backing the uprising against him.

Basindowa rose to his current position as the choice of the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), a coalition of Yemen’s establishment opposition factions, which were granted the power to choose the prime minister and half the seats in the transitional unity government under the conditions of the power transfer deal that lead to Saleh’s ouster.

Basindowa’s appointment was originally met with optimism, but criticism of the prime minister has mounted in the ensuing year and a half. Many Yemenis have blamed him for the unity government’s lack of progress in ameliorating the stagnant economy and weak security situation.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack, and Yemeni officials largely refrained from publicly speculating on the motivations for the attack or the identities of those who carried it out.

A senior intelligence official was assassinated by unknown gunmen in the southern province of Lahj earlier on Saturday, while the car of the Minister of Information, Ali al-Amrani, came under fire in the province of Dhamar on Friday.

The attack on Amrani — a former ruling party member who dropped support for Saleh during 2011 — was officially cast as an accident fueled by a case of mistaken identity: the Yemeni soldiers who shot at the minister’s car reportedly mistook him for a prominent Al Qaeda militant. But in the aftermath of the apparent assassination attempt on Basindowa, some here have tied the two attacks together, speculating that both had similar, sinister motives.

“I think what happened tonight was political—just like what happened to Amrani,” said a government official close to the Prime Minister, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic. “It’s not about killing anyone, but about sending a message.”

Dozens of military and security officials have been assassinated in 2013 alone.

Yemen’s current Minister of Defense, Mohamed Nasser Ahmed, has survived a series of attempts on his life, most notably a September 2012 car bomb outside the Prime Minister's office that left more than a dozen people dead.

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