Yemen picks up the pieces after attack on Defense Ministry
Little conclusive evidence has emerged from investigations
SANA’A, Dec. 9—The fact-finding committee, formed by President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi to investigate the attack on Yemen’s Ministry of Defense last Thursday has not identified those behind the incident yet.
A car bomb followed by gunfire at the ministry’s compound last week left 56 dead, 215 wounded and caused large-scale damage to the complex, including the ministry’s hospital.
On Thursday morning at 8:50 a.m., an explosive-laden car along with gunmen attacked the heavily guarded Defense Ministry in Sana’a.
The clashes between the Yemeni soldiers and the gunmen, who were reportedly dressed in Yemen’s army uniforms, continued for several hours.
According to a fact-finding report published by the government on Saturday, after killing four guards, the militants opened the ministry’s gate for their explosive-loaded car to get in.
The committee said the assailants were 12 armed men, most of them from Saudi Arabia. All of the attackers were killed during the government’s reclaiming mission of the ministry, the report said.
But not before the assailants broke into the Al-Oradi Hospital, located inside the compound. Medical staff—including several foreigners—and patients were shot dead and hundreds of others wounded.
Al-Oradi hospital is known for treating military and civil state senior officials.
Eight medical staff were confirmed dead in the attack, among them two Yemeni physicians, one Filipino doctor, one Yemeni anesthetic technician, three Yemeni nurses and one German physician, according to Dr. Abdulqawi Al-Shamiri, the secretary general of the Yemeni Doctors' Union
However, the media secretary for the President, Yahya Al-Arasi in a statement on Sunday published in the Kuwait-based Al-Seyasa Newspaper contradicted the fact-finding committee and said that not all the perpetrators died in the attack.
"Six suspects were arrested, among them two prominent AQAP leaders. The first is the leader of the operational group and the other reported the success of the attack," Al-Arasi said.
Al-Arasi explained the two AQAP suspects were arrested outside Sana'a by using GPS to track their cell-phones, and the other four were arrested inside the Defense Ministry compound on the day of the attack.
Neither of the conflicting statements have been verified.
Two military men who survived the attack and spoke to the Yemen Times on the condition of anonymity, said that many facts are still missing in the preliminary government report, which is being headed by the chief of the Military Staff, Gen. Ahmed Al-Ashwal.
One of the facts that have noticeably not been mentioned in the report is that two weeks ago the security chief at the Defense Ministry compound was relieved of services and replaced. Two sources said the original chief was from the Presidential Guard and the second a part of the Military Police forces, which fall under the Ministry of Defense.
"I was standing in front of the main gate of the hospital, and suddenly I heard gunfire. I looked left and saw a number of troops falling down. I saw armed militants disguised in military uniform of the [dissolved] First Armored Division shooting at troops," one of the sources said.
"After the [militants] killed four guards, they opened the gate and a Hilux truck got in, there was only one man inside the truck," he said.
"I fled to the hospital screaming. People were crowding at the hospital gate looking to see what was happening," he said.
"I saw the former security chief and told him to run away, but he refused and went towards the truck, holding the gun in his hand. He was shooting at the vehicle, and it blew up immediately," the source added.
The former security chief, Ali Yahya Al-Ansi was killed in the fighting, his father—who was in the hospital for treatment—and Al-Ansi’s son, who was visiting his grandfather, were shot dead in the hospital.
President Hadi visited the site after security forces regained control of the compound. He immediately held a meeting with military leaders. Yemen’s defense minister was in the United States in the middle of military talks in Washington at the time of the attack.
Although speculations about who is behind the attack are running wild, the body or individuals responsible have yet to be confirmed.
Security expert Qasim Al-Taweel did not rule out the possibility that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was involved in the incident.
However, he said, “There must be evidence to prove involvement from any side.”
Al-Taweel said the attack is a warning for the government and carries the message, “We are able to reach any place.”
A history of bold attacks targeting Yemen's military
Yemen's military has been the target of several terror attacks nationwide since the ousting of former President Ali Abdulla Saleh in 2011.
A suicide bomber blew himself up on May 21, 2012 while security forces were performing military parade rehearsals for a national holiday. An estimated 100 people were killed in the attack and another 200 injured.
AQAP later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Most recently, at the end of September, the Second Military Command Headquarters in Al-Mukalla city in Hadramout governorate were attacked by armed men. A reported 13 soldiers were killed in the fighting and over 40 injured.
The government has opened investigations on both attacks, but not conclusive findings on either incident have surfaced.