SANAA: Two suicide bombers struck in Yemen on Thursday — one targeting a gathering of rebels in the country’s capital and the other hitting a military outpost in the south — in attacks that killed at least 50 people, officials said.
The bombings underscore Yemen’s highly volatile situation amid a Shiite rebel blitz that has stunned the nation and reshaped the country’s political landscape.
At least 30 people died when a suicide attacker set off his explosives Thursday in central Sanaa, targeting a gathering of supporters of the rebel Houthis, who overran the capital in an offensive last month, security and hospital officials said.
The bomber mingled among the protesters in the morning hours as they were getting ready for the rally in the landmark Tahrir Street, before he detonated his explosives, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to media.
The second bombing took place on the outskirts of the southern port city of Mukalla in Hadarmout province when a suicide car bomber rammed his car against a security outpost, killing at least 20 soldiers and wounding 15, the officials said.
Hadarmout is one of several strongholds of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, considered by Washington to be the most dangerous offshoot of the terror network.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack, but both bore the hallmarks of Al Qaeda, which has for years staged suicide bombings against army troops, security personnel and government facilities.
In Sanaa, the dead and wounded were taken to three hospitals.
At one of them, the Al-Moayed hospital, body parts of the victims were piled up on the hospital floor, and two severed heads were placed next to two headless bodies. There were six children in critical condition.
At the scene of the blast in Tahrir Street, blood pooled on the ground as volunteers scooped up body parts from the pavement. Sandals and other personal belongings of the victims were scattered about.
Last week, Al Qaeda in Yemen warned it would target the Houthis and called on the country’s Sunnis to close ranks and fight the rebels.
The Houthis had called the Sanaa rally to protest President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s choice for new prime minister, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak.
As the crisis escalated, the prime minister-designate asked Hadi early on Thursday to relieve him of the post. But despite the suicide bombing and bin Mubarak declining the premiership, the rally went on later Thursday, with some 4,000 Houthis calling on Hadi to step down and chanting slogans against the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Rebel leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi delivered a televised statement on Wednesday night, calling on supporters to rally Thursday against the choice of bin Mubarak.
He said his group was surprised by the nomination, saying it came after Hadi met with the US ambassador to Yemen.
Al-Houthi called Hadi a “puppet” in the hands of foreign powers.
“Blatant foreign interference is a form of circumventing the popular revolution,” he said.
The Houthis took control of Sanaa last month but a UN-brokered deal subsequently managed to bring an end to the fighting and street battles in the capital.
The Houthi’s takeover of Sanaa followed weeks of protests by their supporters in the capital to press demands for a larger share in power and a change in government.
The Sept. 21 deal called for the appointment of a new head of government, and for armed Houthis to pull out of the city.
Bin Mubarak, 47, was the head of the president’s office.
Previously, he had successfully led an effort by various political parties — including longtime rivals — to devise a political map for transition after a 2011 uprising in Yemen, an impoverished country in the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.
One of the youngest politicians in Yemen, bin Mubarak emerged during the uprising that erupted in 2011 and the following year forced longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down as part of a US and Saudi-backed accord.
Saleh handed over to Hadi but continued to wield significant power behind the scenes.