Car bomb kills dozens in Yemen capital; security forces again the target

Police cadets and others waiting outside a Yemen police academy in Sanaa were among more than 30 reportedly killed. Suspicions fell on the local Al Qaeda branch, which has attacked military targets in the past.

Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters
People look at the wreckage of a car at the scene of a car bomb attack outside the police college in Sanaa, Yemen, January 7, 2015. A car bomb exploded outside a police college in Yemen's capital Sanaa early on Wednesday, killing around 30 people and wounding about 70 others, police sources and residents said.

A daily roundup of terrorism and security issues.

A car bomb detonated outside a Yemen police academy Wednesday, killing dozens of people and highlighting a wave of violence that has hit the capital in recent months.

No group has claimed responsibility, though Yemen’s branch of Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has carried out similar attacks in the past. Sunni AQAP has been battling Shiite Houthi rebels who took over Sanaa in September.

Victims of the latest blast include police cadets and people who were waiting in line to enroll in the school, Reuters reports. Upwards of 30 people are estimated to have been killed and about 70 were wounded in the blast.

The police may have seen an attack of this sort coming, reports The New York Times:

Muathe al-Sharaei, a witness to Wednesday’s bombing, said that hundreds of people had been lined up outside the police academy, including many who had camped out for days in search of coveted work. The police had used water cannons several days earlier in an attempt to disperse the applicants, fearing that, after another bombing elsewhere in the capital, the applicants were an easy target for attack, Mr. Sharaei said.

Sectarian violence, which exploded after a 2011 uprising that led to a change in Yemen’s government, has worsened in recent months since the Houthi rebels seized the capital, Reuters reports.

And this isn’t the first time security personnel have been targeted by large-scale terror attacks in Yemen. The BBC reports that more than 90 people were killed by a suicide bomber in a 2012 military parade, and that upwards of 50 died in an attack on a military hospital last year. Both attacks were claimed by AQAP. Wednesday’s bombing was the deadliest attack on the capital since October, The New York Times reports.

At least 7,000 people were killed in Yemen in 2014, three times the level of deaths in 2011, when popular uprisings against former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh began, according to a recent report by a Yemen-based think tank, the Abaad Centre for Strategic Studies. That number includes about 1,200 civilians. In addition, Houthi fighters, believed to be backed by Iran, have taken over hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles and are estimated to have taken control over 70 percent of the army in 2014, Al Jazeera reports.

Analysts warn that the rising power of the Houthis and backlash by AQAP to US-led drone strikes has allowed the terrorist group to gain strength and recruits, The Associated Press reports.

The Houthis' push into largely Sunni regions of central Yemen has pitted the rebels against Sunnis, to the benefit of Sunni al-Qaida. While the group has lost prominent figures in drone strikes, the killing of members of prominent tribes in the strikes have pushed them toward the extremists.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Christa Case Bryant reported in October that the uptick in attacks and bombings “mark a worrying escalation of violence for one of the region’s most fragile countries, which is riven by internal conflicts as well as regional tensions.”

The Houthis, whose religion is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, have for years been backed by Shiite Iran; in 2012 US officials alleged the Islamic Republic was sending them weapons, including Kalashnikov semi-automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), as well as cash.

They have fought an on-again off-again war with Yemen’s central government since 2004, complaining of marginalization in Sanaa, and even engaged briefly in a cross-border conflict with neighboring Saudi Arabia….

The precise extent of Iranian and Saudi involvement in Yemen is unclear, but both regional powerhouses have a stake in its direction. Iran has used proxy forces elsewhere, including Lebanon and Syria, to pressure its Saudi rival. Saudi Arabia meanwhile has real concerns that a jihadist upsurge in Yemen, with whom it shares a porous border, could threaten its own security. 

The US also has an interest in preserving the security of Yemen, which it has counted as a counterterrorism partner in its fight against AQAP. The US embassy in Sanaa evacuated many of its staff during [September’s] Houthi offensive. 

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