YEMEN: Al-Qaeda targeting children in retaliatory attacks

[9 August 2012] - On July 28th, Ali Majed al-Thahab was outside his home in Yemen's capital city of Sanaa when unidentified men asked him to deliver a gift to his father, a well-known tribal sheikh. 

However, when Ali entered the house, the parcel exploded, killing him instantly.

He was only 12 years old.

"Al-Qaeda was behind the killing of my son," Sheikh Majed Ahmed Nasser al-Thahab told Al-Bayda Press. "It is a heartless, merciless terrorist organisation."

The sheikh said he increased security at his residence after receiving threats from al-Qaeda in response to his tough positions against the group earlier this year.

Led by the sheikh's cousin, Tariq al-Thahab, al-Qaeda terrorists took control of the city of Radaa, Bayda province, in January 2012. They withdrew 10 days later after tribal mediators, who had the support of Sheikh Majed, persuaded the group to vacate.

Following the attack, many Yemenis expressed indignation and resentment over what they described as a "criminal act".

"We condemn all crimes, but they are more heinous when the victims are children," said Mustafa Mohammed, a 43-year-old government employee who attended the child's funeral. "What fault did they commit?"


Terrorism analysts said al-Qaeda's retaliatory attacks do not distinguish between their targets and innocent bystanders, regardless of whether women or children are among them.

"Al-Qaeda does not forget its opponents," said Saeed al-Jamhi, head of Al-Jamhi Centre for Studies and Research. "It targeted Sheikh Majed using a parcel bomb in retaliation for his positions. Al-Qaeda does not forego taking revenge upon its many enemies, including tribesmen and government, army and security officials."

"Targeting innocent people is condemnable, and using a child to deliver a parcel bomb to his father put the life of the child at great risk, and that risk was realised," al-Jamhi said.

Similarly, Abdel Salam Mohammed, head of the Abaad Studies Centre, said, "Al-Qaeda does not care about victims. Giving the parcel to the child opened the possibility that the child would try to open it himself before handing it to his father."

Mohammed said al-Qaeda's targeting of Sheikh al-Thahab stems from past disputes that arose between the sheikh and the organisation's late leader, Tariq al-Thahab, during the conflict with al-Qaeda in Radaa.


Observers said the use of innocent children in reprisals indicates the organisation is in decline.

Strategic affairs researcher Saeed Abdul Momin said that by targeting prominent figures, al-Qaeda is trying once again to prove it still exists.

"Al-Qaeda failed twice in its latest attempt," he said. "They killed a child for no fault of his own other than being an innocent child who was deceived by the attractive appearance of the parcel and possibly the deceptive appearance of those who handed it to him, and it also failed in reaching its goal."

"The danger is that al-Qaeda may be looking for easy targets guaranteed to intimidate its opponents, so that if they do not succeed in killing the opponent himself they have a chance of striking one of his relatives," Abdul Momin said.

"This indicates that the organisation shifted to a new modus operandi to restore some of the lustre of its reputation and the victories it achieved under the previous regime [in Yemen]," he added. "This line of thinking is an indication of the decline the organisation has fallen into." 


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