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Viewing cable 09SANAA1632, AQAP LIFTS $500K IN ADEN HEIST?

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09SANAA1632 2009-09-02 13:01 2010-12-05 12:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Sanaa
VZCZCXRO6952
RR RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHDIR
DE RUEHYN #1632/01 2451339
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 021339Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2717
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 SANAA 001632

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/ARP AMACDONALD AND INR SMOFFATT
DEPT OF TREASURY FOR BRIAN MCCAULEY

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/23/2019
TAGS: PTER PGOV KFIN YM
SUBJECT: AQAP LIFTS $500K IN ADEN HEIST?

Classified By: Ambassador Stephen Seche for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

1.  (C) SUMMARY:  An armed robbery rocked Aden on August 17,
in part due to the large amount stolen (100 million Yemeni
riyals) and in part due to the belief of government and
non-government sources that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
(AQAP) operatives are the culprits.  The tactics utilized in
the armed robbery bear a striking resemblance to AQAP methods
used in previous attacks, and the sophistication of the
attack discredits claims that ordinary robbers or bank
officials acted alone.  Given the ROYG's lack of
follow-through investigating a similar 1998 armed robbery
attributed to an Islamic extremist group and the potential
for these monies to be used to fund terrorist activities,
this bold, unusual operation, if truly attributable to AQAP,
would provide the organization with a substantial financial
infusion at a time when it is thought to be short of cash.
END SUMMARY.

HIGHLY COORDINATED ATTACK POINTS TO AQAP
----------------------------------------

2.  (C) Armed gunmen robbed an Arab Limited Bank truck
carrying 100 million riyals (equivalent to $500,000) in Aden
on August 17 in a highly coordinated attack that many suspect
was the work of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
operatives.  The armed robbers were disguised as Yemeni
policemen and conducted the robbery in a busy, downtown
district in broad daylight, signaling a high level of
operational sophistication uncommon among average Yemeni
criminals.  After hijacking the bank vehicle and transferring
the money to a get-away car, they erased the serial number of
a third car they used in the operation, which they abandoned
outside Aden in order to delay authorities in tracing its
ownership, according to press reports.

3.  (C) According to independent and official sources, the
precision of the attack and the tactics utilized during the
armed robbery make it unlikely to be the work of ordinary
criminals.  Official government newspaper 26 September noted
that a group of Islamic extremists are suspected to be behind
the plot, though no confirmation of their affiliation or
motives was published.  XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX told PolOff on August 18, "Al-Qaeda is responsible and I reiterate that the robbed money may be used for terrorist
operations," underscoring the similarity to previous armed
robberies by terrorist groups in the region.  The attackers'
use of police uniforms is reminiscent of al-Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) tactics utilized during the attack
on the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a on September 17, 2008.

4.  (C) Rather than attack the bank itself, the robbers
conducted the heist in broad daylight in a busy sector of
Aden, suggesting a high degree of operational sophistication
and access to bank routes and times.  XXXXXXXXXXXX said, "There is
no doubt that there were people who provided them with
information about the amount of money and schedule of the
movement."  Several bank officials have been arrested by ROYG
security forces for possible complicity in the robbery,
according to press reports.  Lieutenant Colonel Haider Haider
of the Political Security Organization in Aden told EmbOff,
"Preliminary reports indicate that there was an insider
involved in this case."  Though no official word has been
issued by the ROYG, Ministry of Defense-owned weekly 26
September noted on August 20 that security forces in Aden had
arrested a group of Islamic extremists they believe were
involved in the robbery.  On August 22 the Yemen Observer, an
English-language weekly owned by the President's secretary,
quoted an anonymous security official claiming that the
Islamic extremists were affiliated with Tariq al-Fadhli,
former pro-Saleh jihadi turned Southern Movement leader.
Interestingly, Free Aden, an anti-ROYG, openly secessionist
web publication, also identified AQAP as the likely
perpetrator but claimed the ROYG was attempting to frame the
Southern Movement by highlighting the fact that the empty
bank vehicle was found in a district of Aden populated by
Southern Movement activists.

DJA VU?
--------

5.  (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX highlighted the similarity between the recent
attack and a 1998 armed robbery of a car carrying nine
million Yemeni riyals of government salaries.  The 1998
robbery was conducted by eight men dressed in military
uniforms at a checkpoint where they ordered the vehicle to
pull over, requested paperwork, and then shot two of the

SANAA 00001632  002 OF 002

passengers before hijacking the car with the stolen salaries.
After the 1998 incident, the ROYG simply compensated the
government employees whose salaries were stolen without
investigating the robbery, according to XXXXXXXXXXXX.  Though
independent reporters tried to garner updated information
from the ROYG on the whereabouts of the stolen money and the
perpetrators, a follow-up was never published by independent
or government press.  A few weeks after the 1998 robbery, 16
western tourists were kidnapped in Abyan by the Aden-Abyan
Islamic Army, an Islamic extremist group believed to have
cooperated with al-Qaeda in the 2000 USS Cole bombing in
Aden.  (Note.  The group was led by the late Abu al-Hassan
al-Mihdar, who later confessed to the kidnapping and was
summarily executed after a Yemeni court sentenced him and two
of his men to death.  End Note.) XXXXXXXXXXXX told PolOff that at
the time, the robbery was widely believed by Adenis to have
been carried out to fund the kidnapping operation, and he
believes the same motives could be behind this recent
robbery.

COMMENT
-------

6.  (C) It is unlikely that ordinary robbers were behind the
August 17 attack, considering the precision of the attack and
the sophisticated tactics used.  The fact that the attackers
conducted a coordinated attack requiring information on the
specific routes and times of the bank vehicle suggests that
they enjoyed good connections and access to sensitive
information, both historical hallmarks of Islamic extremists
in Yemen.  The ROYG's lack of transparency regarding the 1998
armed robbery and its apparent failure to thoroughly
investigate the whereabouts of the stolen monies does not
inspire confidence that the perpetrators of this attack will
be apprehended.  If, in fact, they are affiliated with AQAP,
$500,000 represents a significant influx of cash which could
be used to fund future attacks.  END COMMENT.
SECHE