Majority of gunmen in Yemen assault were Saudis, military says

McClatchy Foreign StaffDecember 6, 2013 

— The attackers who devastated Yemen’s Defense Ministry on Thursday, killing 56 people and wounding more than 200, were primarily Saudi Arabians, according to an initial investigative report released Friday.

The presence of so many Saudis among the 12 militants who attacked the building bolsters the belief that the assault was the work of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the al Qaida affiliate based in Yemen that was formed by the merger of al Qaida branches in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

According to the investigation committee’s statement, the attackers wore army fatigues. They detonated at least one car bomb outside the building at about 8:50 a.m., allowing militants armed with guns, rocket launchers and grenades to take advantage of the tumult and enter the heavily guarded Defense Ministry.

The report said the gunmen split into two groups, one that laid waste to a military hospital in the compound and one that attacked a laboratory.

The gunmen weren’t subdued until 4:30 a.m. Friday, the statement said. It said five militants were killed and that a Yemeni special forces soldier died in the fighting.

A Twitter account affiliated with al Malahim Media, the public relations arm of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, claimed responsibility for the attack early Friday. It said the assault was retaliation for the government’s policy of permitting the United States to launch airstrikes, largely by unmanned drones, against suspected militants in the country.

The group claimed that the ministry housed rooms in which “American experts” and local security officials carried out operations for drone attacks, but the bulk of the casualties were patients and staff at the military hospital, a popular destination for medical treatment among Yemen’s elite.

Among those killed was a nephew of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in addition to an uncertain number of foreign citizens. A statement from the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said seven Filipinos had died in the attack. Initial Yemeni government figures for foreign casualties were two German aid workers, two Vietnamese doctors, two Filipino nurses and one Indian nurse.

While Sanaa appeared to return to normal after the fighting ended Friday morning, the attack deeply unsettled the capital.

The quick release of the initial investigative report was aimed at demonstrating the government’s commitment to transparency, but many here questioned its version of events, suggesting that only 12 attackers could hardly have hung on for so long without inside help.

Many of those directly affected by the assault have yet to emerge from their shock. At a packed hall in an upscale neighborhood in Sanaa, friends and relatives gathered for the funeral of Abduljalil Numan, a prominent judge who was killed in the fighting.

“It’s horrific,” said Dr. Mohamed al Zein, a friend of the deceased who also knew many staff members of the hospital targeted in the violence. “It’s hard to believe that whoever did this was even human.”

Baron is a McClatchy special correspondent. Twitter: @adammbaron

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