Yemeni leaders led a sombre ceremony today to mark the country’s national day, scaling back celebrations a day after a suicide bombing killed nearly 100 soldiers during a rehearsal for a military parade.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, along with senior military commanders, government officials and foreign diplomats, took part in a small, symbolic parade inside Sanaa’s Aviation Academy.
Hadi sat behind a bulletproof glass shield with his armoured car parked nearby.
Security concerns were paramount at the ceremony after yesterday’s suicide attack, when a Yemeni soldier detonated a bomb hidden in his uniform during a rehearsal for National Day, which marks the 1990 reunification of north and south Yemen.
A total of 96 soldiers were killed and at least 200 wounded in one of the deadliest attacks in the capital in years.
Al Qaida’s branch in Yemen claimed the bombing, saying in a statement that the attack was intended to avenge a US-backed offensive against al-Qaida in an area of southern Yemen seized by the militant movement last year.
Addressing the crowd today, the chief of staff of the Yemeni military, Major General Ahmed Ali al-Ashwal, vowed the nation would not be deterred by such attacks.
“We will not let terrorism destroy our future and dreams,” he said.
Maj Gen al-Ashwal was the only official to speak at the ceremony, which was drastically scaled back because of security concerns. The parade was cut from three hours to one hour, a fly-over by fighter jets was cancelled and only cadets from the police and aviation academies participated in the programme.
Despite their grief, Yemenis for the first time marked the National Day without their long-time ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh, who held power for nearly 30 years. Saleh was forced to step down after a year-long uprising where hundreds of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets demanding his removal.
The bombing deeply shocked Yemenis, and left a scene of carnage on a square in central Sanaa.
Military officials said the bomber belonged to Central Security, a paramilitary force commanded by Saleh’s nephew Yahia Saleh. He detonated his explosives in the midst of the Central Security unit as it received orders to pass in front of the parade view stand where the defence minister and the military chief of staff were sitting.
Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, was the site of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors. There have also been a spate of assaults on the US Embassy in Sanaa, including a 2008 bombing that killed 10 Yemeni guards and four civilians.