Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi vowed to fight “terrorism” after a suicide bomber killed 96 soldiers in retaliation for an army offensive against al-Qaeda.
Monday’s attack in the heart of the Yemeni capital, in which about 300 soldiers were injured, came as soldiers were rehearsing for a parade to mark Yemeni unification.
An official said the parade, which had been scheduled to take place yesterday at Sabeen Square — scene of the suicide blast — had been replaced with a “symbolic” ceremony held at the defense and aviation college in Sana’a.
The ceremony was attended by Hadi, who made no speech and left soon after the event ended.
Military Chief of Staff Ali al-Ashwal vowed the military would not be deterred from its offensive against the jihadists.
“The barbaric attack on Sabeen Square will not scare us and will not prevent us from going ahead with our war on these evil elements,” he told the ceremony.
“Our war on them will not stop until we free our land,” said al-Ashwal, who was among the officials, including Yemeni Defense Minister Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, apparently targeted in the attack.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the name given to the group’s Yemen branch, claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said targeted “the defense minister and other leaders of the US war on our people in Abyan” governorate in the south.
“Even if the defense minister and his aides escaped this operation, we will not tire ... we are in a war to defend our blood which is violated in Abyan, and war only breeds war,” it said in a statement posted on jihadist Internet forums.
“The war on terror will continue until it is completely destroyed regardless of the sacrifices,” Hadi said in a statement carried by state news agency Saba after the massive attack, the deadliest since he succeeded Ali Abdullah Saleh as president in February.
Police Colonel Abdul Hamid Bajjash, the officer in charge of security at the blast site, said the bomber detonated his explosives as soldiers from the government’s central security forces, commanded by a nephew of Saleh, rehearsed for yesterday’s scheduled army parade to mark the 22nd anniversary of the unification of north and south Yemen.
The bombing comes as Hadi has been pressing ahead on two difficult fronts — battling al-Qaeda in the south and purging Saleh loyalists from military and security top posts.
Saleh stepped down in as part of a US-backed power-transfer deal brokered by Persian Gulf Arab countries aimed at ending political unrest in the country after a yearlong uprising. The deal gave Saleh immunity from prosecution in return for relinquishing his power.
Saleh originally appointed Ahmed as defense minister, but has recently pressed from behind the scenes for his dismissal because Ahmed has been cooperating with Hadi.
Military officials said the bomber belonged to the 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 both Ahmed and al-Ashwal were sitting.
“They are playing their last cards and blackmailing the new leadership,” political analyst Abdel-Bari Taher said. “This is one desperate attempt by both al-Qaeda and [Ali Abdullah] Saleh’s regime to survive.”