At least 96 people have been killed and almost 300 wounded after a suicide attacker, wearing an army uniform, blew himself up in the midst of a military parade rehearsal in a central square near the presidential palace in the capital of Sana, the capital of Yemen. A YouTube video of the square showed the bloody aftermath of the explosion, with soldiers running in panic and uniformed corpses piled atop each other.
A source from Al-Qaeda told the BBC that one of its members had carried out the attack. As the New York Times notes, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been fighting with the Yemeni military for the past few days for control of towns in the country’s southern province of Aden. At least 33 militants and 19 soldiers are reported to have been killed over the weekend near the town of Jaar, in Abyan, says the BBC.
The explosion occurred just before Yemeni defense minister Nasser Ahmed and other officials were to arrive in the square to greet the troops. Most of those killed belonged to the Central Security Organization, a paramilitary forced controlled by Yahya Saleh, a nephew of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The autocratic Saleh ruled for over 30 years before finally stepping down in February, following popular protests, dissension within the army about supporting the protesters or Saleh and a number of attempts by the Gulf Cooporation Council (GCC) to have him hand over power to his then-vice-president, Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Saleh’s refusal for months to step down from power was regularly cited as the reason for the ongoing chaos in Yemen.
Not long after Monday’s attack, Hadi — now the interim president — announced that Yahya Saleh and three other high-ranking military commissioners had been removed from power.
The deadly explosion occurred just as the US Defense Department confirmed that three American civilian contractors who were assisting in training Yemen’s coast guard had been attacked by militant gunmen in Yemen’s port city of Hodeida on Sunday. According to the BBC, a group called Ansar al-Sharia, or Partisans of Islamic Law, was behind the attack; Ansar al-Sharia was created in response to Yemen’s protest youth movement, which has pushed Salafi jihadists to the side.
Yemen, Al-Qaeda and US Counter-terrorism Efforts
In a May 18 article in Foreign Policy, James Traub writes that AQAB has over 1,000 members and is Al-Qaeda’s “most active operational franchise,” citing John Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism advisor. Both the 2010 underwear bomb plot and last month’s effort to plant an undetectable bomb on a plane — an attacked foiled by a Saudi double agent — originated in Yemen.
Map from Wikimedia Commons
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