Suicide bomber kills scores in Yemen as government pursues Al Qaeda group (+video)

Yemen's military has been carrying out an offensive in the south for the past 10 days against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Today's bombing could be payback.

By , Correspondent

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    Forensic policemen collect evidence at the site of a suicide bomb attack at a parade square in Sanaa, Yemen, May 21.
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A suicide bomber dressed in a Yemeni military uniform detonated himself during rehearsal for a parade on Monday in the capital city of Sanaa. As many as 96 people are reported dead and scores more wounded.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi was scheduled to attend the parade on Tuesday to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the unification of north and south Yemen, but he was not present during the bombing. The Yemeni defense minister and chief of staff were present during the blast, but were uninjured.

The bombing is the largest attack in Yemen’s capital since Mr. Hadi took office in February.

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“We heard a massive explosion. Minutes later, there were so many emergency vehicles, it seems as if hundreds were injured,” said Ali al-Husseini, a local who was near the attack in an interview with CNN.

Though no one has claimed responsibility for the bombing yet, it has escalated concerns that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an Al Qaeda affiliate, remains a serious threat despite Hadi’s pledges to combat the group.

Most of the fighting in Yemen has been confined to the south since President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down. Since then the capital has remained relatively quiet, reports the BBC.

“[T]his is a message, almost certainly from Al Qaeda, to the new President, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, that he can expect no let-up in the fight between the Army and the militants,” said the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner.

The Army has been carrying out an offensive against AQAP in the south of Yemen for 10 days now. The operation is taking place in Abyan Province, where the group has taken over several towns over the course of the past year. According to Agence France-Presse, 213 people have died in the offensive so far, including 147 Al Qaeda fighters.

Monday’s bombing comes just one day after militants in the south attacked three US Coast Guard trainers in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida. The trainers were reportedly driving back to their hotel when a car pulled up alongside them and opened fire with an automatic weapon, injuring one American, reports the Associated Press. The extent of the injuries remains unclear at the present time.

Militants in the south benefited from the instability in Yemen last year as thousands of demonstrators protested for the removal of Mr. Saleh, reports the Daily Telegraph.

“The spread of Islamist control in southern Yemen has deeply embarrassed the Yemeni government and is seen by analysts as a source of grave concern to the United States and Saudi Arabia, the two chief targets of the local Al Qaeda affiliate,” wrote Alan Cowell of The New York Times.

It remains unclear if tomorrow’s parade will go forward as planned, but several Yemeni officials vowed they would not be deterred by Monday’s act of terrorism.

Yemenis must stand together in the face of this deadly terrorist threat,” said Brigadier Karim Nahil in an article by Reuters. “We will celebrate our unity tomorrow with the blood of our martyrs on our hands and faces.”

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