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.
In seeking to address the “root causes” of terrorism, Traub says that “the long-term solution to the growth of terrorism in places like Yemen is to help the state become more effective, and more legitimate.” So far, however,
It is fair to say that the Obama administration has not demonstrated its commitment to nation-building in Yemen. U.S. civilian assistance this year amounts to a very modest $112 million, of which $73 million will go to humanitarian aid. That leaves only $39 million for development, or a little over $1.50 for each of Yemen’s 24 million people. This is a country which ranks 154th on the U.N. human development index, where households desperately need access to clean drinking water, electricity, and fuel oil, among other basic goods.
Traub also points out that the Obama’s administration operations in Yemen are in contradiction to its “rhetorical commitment to democracy in the Arab world.” President Obama supported the GCC plan — which was heavily backed by Saudi Arabia, no friend to democratic movements in its own borders — to transfer power from Saleh to Hadi, who was his predecessor’s longtime supporter. Traub argues that Hadi has actually taken steps that indicate a move away from Saleh’s autocratic rule that left the state enfeebled and dependent on a system of patronage: Hadi has removed two (and now three) Saleh family members from prominent military posts and taken down checkpoints from the streets of Sana.
Hadi has also sent the army into the south to retake towns overtaken by the AQAP. As the BBC’s Frank Gardner says, daily casualties from the fighting in southern Yemen, the attack on the US advisers and Monday’s bombing in Sana mean that both Yemen’s authorities, and the West, should “expect no let-up in the fight between the army and the militants.”
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