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Yemen 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report

Near East > Yemen > Sanaa

Yemen 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report

Overall Crime and Safety

The general crime level in Sana’a is rated at medium-high, based on open source reporting, Regional Security Office (RSO) incident reporting file, and contacts with other Western Embassy officials and private citizens.  This crime level is 120% higher than last year’s medium rating due to the rise in political violence, economic hardship, and the Arab Spring.  However, the actual crime rate is difficult to measure due to a lack of reliable crime statistics.  Information gathered from police sources indicates that most serious criminal activity is concentrated on the outskirts of Sana’a.  The majority of criminal and/or suspicious activity chiefly occurs at night.  While traditional crime concerns are similar to many international cities of comparable size, indigenous and international terrorism present the most serious security concerns.

Crime Threats

Yemen is considered a medium-high threat environment for crime.  Common petty or street crime exists throughout the city, particularly when valuables and cash are left in plain view.  Burglaries and home invasions are not common within the expatriate community but violence against expatriates has risen this year due to governmental instability.  The Yemeni justice system has become almost completely paralyzed during this year’s political unrest.  This year has also brought about a rise in unprecedented crimes, such as forgeries of land deeds, business transactions, and vehicle documents.

Road Safety

Driving around Sana’a is extremely hazardous; standard driving and traffic rules are not enforced.  Major intersections may be controlled by traffic police officers on an intermittent basis.  Traffic lights are relatively uncommon.

Yemen has one of the worst records for traffic accident fatalities in the world.  The number of traffic collisions decreased in the capital and all over Yemen in 2010, going from 2009 statistics of 15,511 accidents and 3,071 deaths to 2010 numbers of 14,131 accidents and 2,959 deaths.  The most prominent reasons associated with the increasing numbers of recorded collisions were drug (qat and alcohol) use, excessive speed, carelessness of pedestrians and vehicles’ lack of maintenance.  The use of cell phones by drivers is very common and likely contributes to the high rate of traffic accidents.

According to the statistics reported by the Traffic Administration in Sana’a, the number of accidents recorded from 2000 to 2010 amounted to 139,904 and the number of deaths from those accidents was 26,968.  It is also common to see children driving cars.  Roads are not well-lit and there is no reflective paint on medians.  Street lighting in general is very poor, if existent at all.

Political Violence

Political violence is on the rise in Yemen, with a rebel army intermittently fighting the government in the north, a secessionist protest movement in the south and growing economic grievances across the country.  Yemen has a porous border with Saudi Arabia as well as a strategically important coast line that links the Indian Ocean with the Red Sea.  Its location adjacent to the Horn of Africa creates major issues with refugees from throughout the region and its close proximity to Somalia brings it within the influence of the burgeoning piracy problem, and terrorist groups, including the Al-Shabab.  According to government statistics, though, refugee levels have actually dropped this year due to the violence and economic status of Yemen. 

Yemen experienced significant political instability throughout 2011, which curtailed the Yemeni government’s ability to eliminate potential terrorist safe havens. Yemeni security forces struggled to project power beyond Sana’a and other major cities, allowing al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants and other extremist groups to expand their influence in Yemen. Nonetheless, the United States government and the Government of Yemen achieved unprecedented cooperation in the field of counterterrorism in 2011, leading to the capture or killing of a number of suspected AQAP militants.

The Yemeni government also launched large-scale kinetic operations against AQAP in the country’s south, with equipment and training assistance from the United States. However, assistance slowed considerably in 2011 due to the security situation and concerns about the unconfirmed involvement of Yemeni security forces in the repression of anti-government demonstrations. Despite successes in disrupting their operational capabilities, AQAP maintained an aggressive operational schedule of attacks against Yemeni government targets, foreigners, and the Shi’a Houthi movement in the north in 2011.

Following is a chronology of noteworthy events occurring this decade:

2008 January – January 18th attack on Belgian tourists in Wadi Dawan (Hadramut).  Three Belgians and two Yemeni drivers died in the attack.

2008 MarchMay Series of mortar attacks on police, official, diplomatic, foreign businesses.  US embassy evacuates all nonessential personnel.  Mortar attacks included U.S. Embassy, Hadda Compound and the Italian Embassy.

2008 September September 17 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a killed 18 people, including six assailants.  Six suspects arrested.

2009 January – Merger of Saudi and Yemeni AQ elements to form Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

2009 February ROYG announces release of 176 alQa’ida suspects on condition of good behavior.

2009 June Nine foreigners are abducted in the northern Saada region.  The bodies of three are later found, and two females were later released.  Four are still unaccounted for: a German couple and their infant son, and a British man.

2009 November – Saudi Arabia becomes directly involved in the fighting in northern Saada, Yemen.

2009 December Yemenbased branch of alQa’ida claims it was behind failed attack on US airliner over Detroit.  The government calls on the West for more support to help it combat the alQa’ida threat.

2010 March Northern rebels release 178 captives after the government accuses the Houthis of failing to comply with the terms of the truce reached in February.

2010 May AQAP claims responsibility for the attempted suicide bomb attack on the convoy of the British Ambassador, Tim Torlot, April 26, 2010, Sana’a.

2010 May – Two Americans kidnapped by local tribesmen in Bani Mansour (45 miles west of Sana’a).  The tribesmen were not AQAP, rather they utilized the kidnapping to negotiate release of fellow tribesmen held in Yemeni prisons.

2010 June/July – AQAP claims responsibility for the attack on PSO headquarters in Aden that killed 11, and an attack on PSO offices in Zinjibar that killed one.

2010 August – AQAP clash with government security forces in Loder, southern Yemen, killing 33 and forcing hundreds to flee their homes.

2010 October – AQAP claims responsibility for the rocket attack on the diplomatic motorcade transporting the UK DCM in Sana’a, Yemen.

2010 October – Rogue local guard open fires and kills French expatriate and 4 other bystanders at the OMV compound in Sana’a, Yemen (Hadda area).

2010 October – AQAP claims responsible for the cargo incident involving a toner cartridge filled with explosives on a plane bound for Chicago.

2010 December – AQAP claims responsibility for a November 2010 attack on Yemeni Shiites in Saada, northern Yemen.

2011 January – Large public demonstrations, both pro- and anti-government, break out throughout the country, sparked by the initial unrest in Tunisia and Cairo in mid-January.

2011 February – AQAP militants attack multiple government officials, including Major Saleh Bhadris, a Political Security Organization (PSO) officer in Hadramaut, Colonel Mohamed al Ezzy, the PSO’s Deputy Director for Hadramut, and PSO officer Mohamed Hassan Al-Qerzi.

2011 March - Islamist militants seized an arms factory outside of Jaar in Abyan governorate.  The next day, a large explosion in the factory killed an estimated 150 people.

2011 April - AQAP militants briefly seized the Shabwa town of Azzan and cut off the hands of two thieves, as part of their program of Sharia Islamic law.

2011 May - Three French aid workers based Sayun, Hadramaut were kidnapped by AQAP members. They were eventually released in mid-November.

2011 June - A heavily armed suspected AQAP member shot and killed a colonel and a sergeant of the Saudi border guards and injured one other, during an attempt to illegally cross into Saudi Arabia’s Najran province from Yemen’s Sa’ada governorate.

2011 July – A UK citizen working as a maritime security contractor was killed, when his booby-trapped car exploded in the Mu’alla neighborhood of Aden.  AQAP is suspected in the attack, the first AQAP victim from outside the region since the killing of South Korean tourists in Hadramaut in early 2009. 

2011 October - AQAP fighters attacked the liquid natural gas (LNG) pipeline the links the gas fields in Marib to a Total LNG plant in the city of Belhaf in Shabwah. The attack disrupted the gas flow and caused a large fire.

2012 January - Three armed civilian kidnapped a driver working with TOTAL Company and stole the company vehicle he was driving. 

Regional terrorism and organized crime


The threat of regional terrorism dramatically overshadows that of organized crime.  Regional terrorism concerns have plagued Yemen since 2000 when the USS Cole was bombed in the Gulf of Aden and remains the primary security concern for the diplomatic and expat communities.  The 2008 attack on the U.S. Embassy, 2009 kidnapping of nine foreigners, the two attacks against UK diplomatic motorcades in 2010 and the grenade attack against four U.S. Embassy employees in December 2010 reinforce the threat to foreigners living or traveling in Yemen.

International terrorism or transnational terrorism

International and transnational terrorism remain critical concerns in Yemen; AQAP is based in Yemen, and terrorist groups from the Horn of Africa are increasingly present in Yemen and building ties with AQAP.  AQAP continues to threaten Yemen, the U.S., and other U.S. allies.

Civil unrest

The “Arab Spring” anti-government protests that began in Tunisia and Egypt spread to Yemen by January 2011, and the ensuing civil unrest was widespread in the country throughout 2011.  Large-scale anti-government protests in Sana’a, Taiz, Aden, and other cities led to clashes with pro-government supporters and Yemeni security forces.  The most notable violence occurred in Aden and Taiz, with the majority of demonstrations in Sana’a marked by large numbers and relative peacefulness.  Demonstrations in Sana’a have primarily taken place at or around Sana’a University and Tahrir Square. However, spontaneous demonstrations have also occurred in front of government ministry buildings, the Presidential Palace and near the Grand Mosque.  Residents and visitors are advised to avoid demonstrations and protests, which can turn violent without warning.  In recent months, protests have decreased in frequency, the overall security situation has improved, and road blocks are systematically being removed, easing travel conditions. 

Post-Specific Concerns

Environmental hazards

Roads are hazardous during rainy seasons because of a lack of infrastructure to deal with excess water.  Flash floods pose a significant safety concern and may occur with little or no warning.  Earthquakes are not an issue in Yemen.

Industrial and Transportation Accidents

Traffic accidents are extremely common due to lack of obedience to basic traffic rules.  Bus and taxi drivers may operate their vehicles while under the influence of qat.  Many vehicles lack proper lighting and mirrors.  Vehicles are poorly maintained and are an extreme hazard on the road.

Carjacking

Travel on roads between cities throughout Yemen can be dangerous. Armed carjacking, especially of four-wheel-drive vehicles, occurs in many parts of the country, including the capital. Yemeni security officials advise against casual travel to rural areas.

Kidnappings

The threat of kidnappings in Yemen is high.  Kidnappings are often used as a political tool to demand government benefits and services or prisoner releases/exchanges.  AQAP may also seek to benefit from negotiations involving kidnapping.

Narcoterrorism

Narcoterrorism does not present a significant threat to foreigners in Yemen.  As a result of the porous borders and lack of port security in Yemen, smuggling and transshipment of narcotics and other contraband goes largely unchecked by Yemeni authorities.

Police Response

Foreigners should immediately contact their respective Embassy if they are detained.

Police and military check points are common and may appear with little advance notice.  The police and military typically do not harass or detain foreigners, unless the individual(s) acts suspicious.  Travelers should avoid taking pictures of diplomatic or government buildings, possessing weapons, and should carry their passport or official identification at all time.

Where to turn for assistance if you become a victim of a crime and local police telephone numbers

The published emergency telephone number for the police and ambulance service in Sana’a is 199, but the service is unreliable.  Knowing the location of emergency service providers is essential.  There several police stations clearly identified with signs in English and Arabic, as well as police officers on foot and in static locations throughout the city of Sana’a, however, most police officers do not speak English.

Medical Emergencies

Due to the lack of reliable street addresses, emergency callers should provide directions to their location based on prominent landmarks and be prepared to meet the ambulance upon arrival.  Directions should be prepared and kept by the phone.  If the patient can safely be transported to the hospital by private vehicle, a potentially long wait for an ambulance may be avoided.  It is important to know the quickest and shortest route to the main emergency facilities throughout the city.  For non-life threatening emergencies or routine consultations, there are several private medical centers and medical providers available.  It is strongly advised that all U.S. nationals identify and select a primary care physician and a pediatrician if required.

There are various medical clinics throughout Sana’a, but capabilities may be limited.  Medical care outside Sana’a is more limited.  The published Sana’a phone number for ambulance service is 199, but the service is considered unreliable.

The following medical service providers are frequented by foreigners residing or traveling in Sana’a.

University of Science and Technology Hospital

60TH Street, Sana’a    Tel. No. 471 122 -500 000

 

Modern German Hospital

Taiz Street before Al-steen crossing; front of Al-Tadhamon Islamic Bank

Tel.No.600 000/ 608 888 then dial 0 for ext.-operator-Nisisa

 

Saudi German Hospital

60th Street Sana’a Tel. No. 313 333

 

The Eye Consultants

Zubairy Street, Marib Insurance Company Building, 3rd floor

Clinic Phone: 401 670 / 402 005

 

Yemen German Hospital

After Seteen and hadda crossing

Phone number: 418 000

 

Lebanon Hospital

24th street Haddah Sana’a, Yemen

Telfax: 411 700

 

Military Hospital

Ali Mohd Nagi   Phone: 222 512-4 / 257 004

Fax: 222 515/222 517

 

Al-Thawra Hospital

Phone: 246 966 to 8; 246 971 to 7; 246 983-80

 

Tips to avoid becoming a victim

Crimes such as pick pocketing, petty theft, scams, assault, and sexual harassment do occur.  U.S. nationals should not be lulled into a false sense of security.  The local culture is conservative, and foreigners should be careful not to offend local (Islamic) sensibilities.  Dress should be conservative, and women should avoid wearing shorts, short skirts, and sleeveless attire.  Women should dress modestly when walking outdoors.  Public display of affection should be avoided and is considered a violation of local law.

Practicing good security measures can reduce the risk of becoming a victim.  Please note the following suggestions:

  • Avoid locations frequented by large groups of Westerners.
  • Vary routes and times.
  • Vary routines and places of activities.
  • Carry your mobile phone with emergency numbers pre-programmed, and do not use your phone while driving.
  • If approached by a police officer, ask for identification.
  • Always keep your vehicle doors locked and windows closed; do not leave valuables in plain view.
  • If possible, let a friend or acquaintance know when you are out, where you will be, and where you can be reached.
  • Control the keys to your residence.
  • If you will be away from your residence for any length of time, have a friend check on the residence.  Leave lights on and doors and windows locked.
  • If you are being followed, do not drive home. Go to a safe area such as a police station or friendly embassy.
  • If your follower is in a vehicle, try to obtain a license plate number and vehicle description.
  • Use caution when riding in taxicabs.  Mini-bus “dabab” taxis should be avoided.

Further Information

The U.S. Embassy is located at Sa’awan Street, Himyer Zone, Sana’a.  The main Embassy phone number is 967 (1) 755-2000.  For emergency assistance after duty hours, weekends and holidays, call 967 (1) 755-2170.  The Embassy is open Saturday – Wednesday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  The Embassy is closed on both Yemeni and U.S. national holidays.

As the U.S. Department of State continues to develop information on any potential security threats to U.S. interests overseas, it shares credible threat information through travel warnings and travel alerts, available online at www.travel.state.gov.  Travelers can also hear recorded information by calling the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. at 202-647-5225 from their telephone.

The U.S. Embassy sends updated information regarding security threats via the warden message system to registered Americans within its consular district.  The RSO office encourages U.S. nationals residing or travelling in Yemen to register with the U.S. Embassy consular section at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/.

Embassy contact numbers:
Post One:                   01-755-2170

RSO:                           01-755-2222

Consular Section:     01-755-2266

Health Unit:                01-755-2052

OSAC Country Council

Due to political unrest, the OSAC Country Council has not met regularly, and there is no chairperson at this time.  The RSO seeks to re-establish regular monthly meetings this year and will host the events until a chairperson is elected.  Security questions and requests for OSAC information and membership may be directed to the Regional Security Office at the contact number listed above.