Governor of Aden Assassinated as Peace Talks Announced

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The governor of Aden, Jaafar Mohamed Saad, and several body guards were killed when a car bomb targeted their convoy in the Tawahi district of Aden on Sunday.  Within hours, an Islamic State-affiliated news source claimed responsibility. Aden remains the current base for Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, after pro-government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition re-captured the economically and politically  important port city in October.  President Hadi returned to the city in early November and it has become the interim capital while the government negotiates with the Houthi rebel faction. Governor Saad “was a significant figure not just as the administrative head of Aden, but for the role he played in driving Houthi rebels out of the port city earlier this year,” says analyst  Sebastian Usher.

Yemeni analyst Farea al-Muslimi suggested, “the government is internally busy fighting and the only ones working or taking over in Yemen now are Isis and al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP).”  AQAP has maintained a presence in Yemen for a number of years, even enacting autonomous control over several cities in the country’s eastern Hadramout region. It was not until recently that the Islamic State began conducting attacks in the country, specifically in Aden, “bombing mosques and killing captives in its trademark style of grotesque and horrifying showmanship.”  POMED Non-resident Senior Fellow Nadwa al-Dawsari wrote last month,”If the city continues to lack effective security and governance—of which local empowerment is an essential  component—a scenario in which Al-Qaeda sweeps through the entire South is not outside the realm of possibility.”

Just a day after the assassination, meanwhile, the Yemeni government and Houthis agreed to peace talks to start tentatively on December 15 in Switzerland. Mohammed Abdul-Salam, a Houthi spokesman, claimed on Facebook that, “Ways for a ceasefire and subsequent confidence-building steps were…discussed, and we expressed our openness to conduct a responsible and serious dialogue.”  In the meantime, a ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ will take place, allowing the Houthis to vacate the urban areas that they had agreed to leave per the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2216.  UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ould Cheikh Ahmed cautioned that the assassination represented a “painful illustration of the dangers Yemen is facing if we don’t go quickly to the negotiation table.”