A planned military parade to mark Yemen’s National Day went ahead in Yemen, despite a suicide attack during rehearsals for the celebration that left nearly 100 people dead.
Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for Monday’s suicide bombing in the centre of the Yemeni capital, saying that it was revenge for increased US drone strikes.
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Al Jazeera’s Jane Ferguson, reporting from Sanaa, says that Tuesday’s sombre march was largely scaled down and held in a “secret” location at the air force academy.
“This was supposed to be a national celebration, with the public and international diplomats there, but will now be a shadow of what it was meant to be,” Ferguson said.
Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who attended the parade behind a bullet-proof glass shield, said after the attack that he would fight “terrorism regardless of the sacrifices”.
Patrols were stepped up across the city on Tuesday and dozens of policemen stood guard at street intersections. Few people ventured out, partly due to the holiday and partly for fear of more attacks.
Officials said a bomber dressed in military uniform targeted the soldiers rehearsing on Monday for the parade.
Yemen’s defence minister and chief of staff were both present at the event, but neither man was hurt.
The huge explosion left scenes of carnage at Sabaeen Square, with bloodied victims strewn across the 10-lane road where the rehearsal was held on Monday morning not far from the presidential palace.
“We had just finished the parade. We were saluting our commander when a huge explosion went off,” said Amr Habib, a soldier.
“It was a gruesome attack. Many soldiers were killed and others had their arms and legs blown off.”
Al-Qaeda’s wing in Yemen said the suicide bombing was in revenge for what it called the United States’ war on its followers in southern Yemen and that it had targeted the Yemeni military leadership.
The group also warned in a statement received by the Reuters news agency that more attacks will follow if the military campaign in the southern province of Abyan did not stop.
“We will take revenge, God willing, and the flames of war will reach you everywhere, and what happened is but the start of a jihad project in defence of honour and sanctities,” the statement said.
But one of the government investigators said preliminary findings suggested the suicide bomber was a rogue soldier rather than a man in a disguise.
“The suicide bomber was dressed in a military uniform. He had a belt of explosives underneath,” said a man who identified himself as Colonel Amin al-Alghabati, his hands and uniform flecked with blood.
A US military instructor was shot and seriously wounded on Sunday in an attack also claimed by Ansar al-Sharia, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Yemeni government soldiers are waging a fierce campaign in the country’s south against AQAP fighters who have taken advantage of political instability to gain territory.
Yemeni troops closed in on the southern militant-held town of Jaar on Sunday in heavy fighting, part of a new US-backed offensive launched earlier this month to regain control of territory and towns seized by Ansar al-Sharia.