SANAA // Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, the Yemeni president, yesterday attended the country's muted National Day celebrations a day after a militant killed 96 soldiers in the capital.
A suicide bomber, who was a soldier in the Yemen army, detonated a bomb in Al Sabeen Square in Sanaa during a military parade rehearsal on Monday that killed the troops and injured 300 more.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the attack and said it targeted "the defence minister and other leaders of the US war" on the southern Abyan province.
Mr Hadi attended yesterday's military parade at the Aeronautics College but appeared behind bulletproof glass. The sombre ceremony marked the 1990 unification of North Yemen and South Yemen.
During the ceremony, Ahmed Ali Al Ashwal, the military chief of staff, said the army would step up its war against militants.
"Our war on them will not stop until we free our land," said Mr Ashwal, who was among the officials, including the defence minister, Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, who were targeted for assassination in the Al Sabeen Square blast.
Dozens of the soldiers who were wounded in the attack took part in the parade yesterday, a scene that pushed many of their colleagues to tears.
On Monday evening, a French military plane flew five of the Yemeni soldiers wounded in the blast to a military hospital in Djibouti.
Yemeni authorities arrested two men hiding explosive belts under their military uniforms hours after the soldier blew himself, an official said yesterday. The two men, "wearing explosives belts each packed with 13 kilograms" were arrested in Sanaa on Monday soon after the deadly bombing, he said.
The attack demonstrated that AQAP can successfully strike at military targets and that it has extended its capability from outside its stronghold in the country's south.
It has also raised fears about the extent to which AQAP has infiltrated Yemen's fragile military, which is already hobbled by factions who remain loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Abdulbari Taher, an independent analyst, said Monday's blast shows that Mr Saleh and officials with links to the former regime have created an environment that has allowed militants to exploit weaknesses in state institutions.
"Saleh has used the militants as a card to blackmail his neighbours in the Gulf and the West and the militants benefited from that in penetrating the army and security forces and building good associations inside them. It is a mutual interest," said Mr Taher.
"Such a situation where Hadi has weak control over the army and security puts the stability of the country and the region at stake."
Mr Hadi sacked a number of Saleh loyalists last month in an attempt to take control of the provinces and security forces.
The Joint Meeting Parties, a coalition of parties that holds 50 per cent of the unity cabinet seats, has pledged its support for Mr Hadi's government and has called for speeding up the restructuring of state institutions.
"Unifying the army and security forces has become a must and is very much associated with the drying up the springs of terrorism as well as the boosting of the state control over all provinces to achieve stability and security will help move the peaceful transition," the JMP said in a statement yesterday.
Yemen has become a focal point of the United States' war on terror, prompting it to increase the number of drone strikes on the country this year.
Barack Obama, the US president, said the US is concerned by the threat posed by Al Qaeda's affiliates in Yemen and pledged to work with the Yemeni government to crack down on the extremists whom Washington blames for several attempts to blow up US airliners and cargo planes.
After Monday's attack, Mr Hadi vowed to take the fight to AQAP. The militants "wanted to turn the joy of our people with the unity day into sorrow", he said in a speech to the nation. "The war on terrorism will continue until it is uprooted and defeated completely, whatever the sacrifices are."
Yemen's prime minister, Mohammed Salem Basindwah, will attend in Riyadh today a meeting of the Friends of Yemen group, which was formed in 2010 to help the country deal with Al Qaeda.
* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse