Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 May 2019

His dreams shattered, Yemen survivor wishes he died in ISIL attack

At the Republican Hospital in Aden, dozens of injured filled the wards, recounting the moment an ISIL suicide bomber drove his pick up truck in a crowd of army recruits, killing 74.
A survivor from a suicide bomb attack against army recruits in Aden on 29 August, 2016 arrives at hospital for treatment. The bomb, which was claimed by ISIL, killed 74 people. Mohammed Al Qalisi for The National
A survivor from a suicide bomb attack against army recruits in Aden on 29 August, 2016 arrives at hospital for treatment. The bomb, which was claimed by ISIL, killed 74 people. Mohammed Al Qalisi for The National

ADEN // Omar Abdulmoeen woke early with his three friends to make the two-hour journey to Aden.

The four men had been fighting in a resistance militia in Abyan province in support of the government, first against the rebel Houthi militants trying to take over the country and then against extremist groups attempting to seize territory amid the chaos of the civil war.

On Monday, they arrived in Aden to sign up for the Yemeni army at a school being used as a recruitment centre. The men were among about 200 applicants from Aden and the surrounding provinces who stood in queues to collect their recruitment forms.

Omar and his friends would have chatted excitedly about the prospect of becoming professional soldiers.

At 8.10am, those dreams were shattered when an ISIL suicide bomber drove a pickup truck into the gathered recruits and detonated explosives.

Omar’s friends were among the dozens killed immediately. The 24-year-old survived but was struck by several pieces of shrapnel.

The corpses of dozens of young men surrounded him, but Omar remembers little about the aftermath.

“I wish that I was killed,” Omar told The National from his bed at the Republican Hospital where many of the injured were being treated on Tuesday.

“There is shrapnel in my legs and chest and I need several operations to take them away.”

Like many young men in southern Yemen, Omar joined a resistance group in Abyan’s Ahwar district after the Iran-backed Houthis and forces loyal to the deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh surged across the country after seizing the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

The militia’s leader had encouraged Omar to come to Aden to join the army.

“When we arrived at the school, we still were waiting for the forms when the suicide bomber drove up,” he said.

Omar was deep in shock, distraught at losing his friends and overwhelmed by the pain of his wounds.

But he vowed to still join the army when he had recovered to “fight the terrorists who killed my friends”.

Doctors at the hospital said the death toll from the bombing had risen to 74 on Tuesday and about 100 people were being treated for injuries. Many had suffered severe lacerations and lost limbs.

Faisal Mohammed Salem, 19, from Aden, lost his left leg in the bombing.

“I am happy that I survived. When I see the photos of the attack, I cannot believe how I survived the attack,” Faisal told The National. “After losing my leg, there is no way I can join the army now.”

He said he hopes the security forces will catch and punish those behind the attack. Salem’s father, Mohammed, 54, was angry at the lack of security at the recruitment centre.

“There is carelessness by the security forces,” he said as he sat near his son’s hospital bed. “This is the second time that the terrorists targeted applicants for recruitment in the same way, and they did nothing to prevent it.”

He said the Yemeni government, which is using Aden as a temporary capital, should take responsibility for the attack, which he said was caused by “carelessness”.

Since Aden was liberated from the Houthis with the help of a Saudi-led coalition in 2015, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and groups pledging allegiance to ISIL have carried out a series of assassinations and suicide bombings.

Yemeni forces and the coalition, which includes the UAE, have launched a series of operations against the extremists to drive them from key towns and cities.

Dr Ali Abdullah Saleh, manager of the Republican Hospital, said he was shocked when the dead and injured started to arrive at the hospital.

“Most of the wounds were severe, and many of them died in the hospital,” he said. “The injured suffered mostly from shrapnel wounds to different parts of the body.”

He said the hospital was in a state of emergency and that it had appealed for blood donations and any available doctors to come and help.

The recruits’ deaths come as the conflict between the government and the Houthi rebels intensifies after the breakdown of peace talks this month.

On Tuesday the United Nations said at least 10,000 people have been killed since the war escalated in March 2015, almost double the estimates of more than 6,000 used previously.

UN humanitarian coordinator Jamie McGoldrick said the conflict had displaced three million Yemenis and forced 200,000 people to seek refuge abroad.


Updated: August 30, 2016 04:00 AM