Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, facing a growing campaign by an al Qaeda affiliate in the country, said security forces would become “tougher and more determined in pursuing terrorist elements”.
Yemen’s defence minister and chief of staff were both present at the rehearsal for yesterday’s National Day parade but neither was hurt. A police source said he could not rule out the bombing was an attempt to assassinate them.
The explosion in Sanaa’s Sabaeen Square left scenes of carnage, with bloodied victims and body parts strewn across the 10-lane road where the rehearsal was held in the morning, not far from the presidential palace. The defence ministry said at least 96 soldiers were killed and 222 wounded.
“We had just finished the parade. We were saluting our commander when a huge explosion went off,” said soldier Amr Habib. “It was a gruesome attack. Many soldiers were killed and others had their arms and legs blown off.”
Weakened by an uprising that eventually toppled former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s government has lost control over whole swathes of the country.
The attack, along with an ambush on Sunday on a US military training team, indicated their campaign could be entering a dangerous new stage.
The US sees Yemen as a vital front in its global war on Islamic militants and is increasing its military support for the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The US military has itself targeted militants in Yemen using drones, which have frequently killed civilians and are deeply resented by Yemenis, even the many who abhor al Qaeda.
Militant group Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), which is affiliated to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the military parade suicide attack, saying it was in response to the “crimes” of the security forces, who are fighting to dislodge militants from their strongholds in Abyan.
One investigator said preliminary findings suggested the suicide bomber was a rogue soldier rather than a man in a disguise.
“The suicide bomber was dressed in a military uniform. He had a belt of explosives underneath,” said a man who identified himself as Colonel Amin al-Alghabati, his hands and uniform flecked with blood.
The usual security procedure for such an event would involve checks being made on the soldiers at their bases before they are transported to the site of the parade in army vehicles.