SANAA // Yemen’s defence minister Maj Gen Mohammed Nasser Ahmed escaped an assassination attempt in Sanaa yesterday when a car bomb struck his motorcade and killed at least 12 people, according to the interior minister.
Salem Ben Taleb, the prime minster’s office manager, said that attack occurred as Maj Gen Ahmed’s car was leaving the gate of the premier’s office.
The attack hit the third vehicle of the motorcade killing eight of his personal security. Five civilians in the area of the explosion were also killed. Twelve others were injured.
Also yesterday, more than 200,000 activists marched in Sanaa demanding that sanctions be imposed on the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and that his amnesty from prosecution be removed.
Yesterday’s attack took place one day after Yemeni authorities announced the killing of the second-in-command of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap), Saeed Al Shihri, a Saudi national.
There was no claim of responsibility for yesterday’s blast but Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has conducted several assassination attempts against Maj Gen Ahmed. In May, the group carried out a bombing that killed 96 soldiers and wounded 200 in a military parade in Sanaa, an event attended by Maj Gen Ahmed.
Motorcyclists near the site of yesterday’s attack took seven of the injured to hospital. Among them was Mohammed Al Qubati, a former Yemeni ambassador to Lebanon.
“Minister Mohammed Ahmed was aboard a bulletproof vehicle. If not for the extra security he would have been among the killed,” a defence ministry official said.
Three residential compounds caught fire in the explosion along with nine vehicles. The prime minister’s office was immediately closed down and senior officials were evacuated and smoke from the attack hovered in the skies of Sanaa for more than an hour.
Ali Al Mathrahi, who witnessed the explosion, said that bodies flew from the vehicles as a fireball engulfed a 200-metre radius around the blast. “This area is heavily guarded and was supposed to be one of the safest squares in the capital. People, houses, trees, and cars were all on fire after the explosion,” said Mr Al Mathrahi, who owns a small grocery store in the square
An aide to Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, the Yemeni president, said 80 troops were sent to the defence minister’s residence after the explosion for fear of another attack.
“The defence minister is considered the right hand for President Hadi and played a vital role in both military reforms and the war against Al Qaeda,” the aide said.
Mohammed Qahtan, a senior official in the Islah party, the country’s largest opposition party, blamed both Al Qaeda and Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, for the attack, claiming they consider the defence minister their prime enemy.
“With the defence minister killed, Yemen will be forced to halt any progress in uniting the country’s military or continue its war against terror. This is what ousted president Ali Saleh and Al Qaeda have been seeking for months,” he said.
Assassination attempts have been commonplace since Mr Saleh stepped aside under a Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered deal in February.
In August, the transportation minister, Waeed Bazeeb, survived an attempt on his life when his convoy was attacked by gunmen in Aden.
Yemen’s information minister, Ali Al Amrani, has escaped three separate assassination attempts over a span of four months, the latest in July when a member of his personal security was shot dead.
“The cost for change has not been light in Yemen and many of its prominent leaders are threatened. The political situation is tense in the country and more violence is expected as the year comes to an end,” said Ahmed Al Bahri, the head of the opposition Haq Party’s political office.
“Yemen is and has been on the brink of failure.”
* With additional reporting by the Associated Press