A suicide bomber killed at least 10 people outside a police academy in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, on Wednesday, dramatically exposing the government’s vulnerability to al-Qaeda-linked insurgents despite a US-backed offensive against them.
Yemeni Interior Minister Abdul Qader Qahtan told state television the death toll was 10, with 15 wounded, some of them in a serious condition. Security officials had earlier put the number of dead at 22.
Policeman Fadel Ali said police cadets were leaving the academy when the bomber attacked: “We ran to the place and found dozens of cadets covered in blood. Blood was everywhere.”
Parts of the cadets’ khaki uniforms were scattered across the dirt outside the academy, and blood spattered the walls.
Unusually, the suicide bomber did not die immediately, but was evacuated to hospital by medical staff. He was missing a leg and an arm.
A Yemeni security official, who declined to be named, said the bomber told security officers before he died that he was affiliated with al Qaeda and came from Amran, a town 70km north of Sana’a.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed the attack, just as it did a similar attack in Sana’a in May, when a suicide bomber in army uniform killed more than 90 people rehearsing for a military parade.
The violence in the heart of the capital demonstrated how far the government is from defeating the insurgents despite a US-backed offensive that drove them out of their southern strongholds this year.
“The bombing shows that the security services are still weak and that al-Qaeda has not been defeated, but simply retreated, maintaining its ability to strike wherever it wants,” said Saeed Obeid, an expert on al-Qaeda.
The US has been pouring financial and military aid into Yemen to stem the threat of international terrorism from AQAP and prevent any spillover of violence into neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer.
It has also stepped up a campaign of drone missile strikes against AQAP, which has been behind several failed attacks on the US, including an attempt to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.
The Yemeni government vowed to keep up the fight.
“Yemen will counter the evil of terrorism with honor and bravery. Al-Qaeda today is not only facing the military and security services but also the fury of the Yemeni public,” Adel al-Suneini, charge d’affaires in Washington, said in a statement.
However, analysts say Yemen faces an uphill battle to defeat the insurgents, who have vowed to carry their fight across Yemen.
“The government campaign against al-Qaeda is going to be a long process and ... victory is still far away,” said Theodore Karasik, the director of research and development at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
The insurgents had been emboldened by a decline in government control over Yemen last year during protests that eventually ousted long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and seized several southern cities before being driven out this year.