World

Rebel missile attack, suicide bombings kill 51 in Yemen

Dozens have died in Yemen as a missile attack and suicide bombings hit the port city of Aden.

Houthi rebels claim to be behind missile that hit military parade in Aden

Soldiers react after a missile attack on a military parade during a graduation ceremony for newly recruited troopers in Aden, Yemen. (Fawaz Salman/Reuters)

Rebels in Yemen fired a ballistic missile Thursday at a military parade in the southern port city of Aden and co-ordinated suicide bombings targeted a police station in another part of the city, killing at least 51 people and wounding dozens, officials said.

The missile hit in the city's neighbourhood of Breiqa where a military parade was underway by forces loyal to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a member of the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels since 2015 in support of Yemen's internationally recognized government.

Since the rebels seized the country's capital, Sanaa, in 2014, Aden has served as the temporary seat of the government.

The parade was taking place in the pro-coalition al-Galaa camp, said a security official, without giving a breakdown for the casualties.

The website of the Houthi rebels, Al-Masirah, quoted spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Yehia Sarea as saying the rebels had fired a medium-range ballistic missile at the parade, leaving scores of casualties, including military commanders. 

The security official told The Associated Press that UAE-backed commander Monier al Yafie, also known by his nickname Aboul Yamama, was among those killed. He was delivering a speech during the parade, the official said.

Suicide blasts

A short while earlier, a car, a bus and three motorcycles laden with explosives targeted the Sheikh Othman police station in Aden's Omar al-Mokhtar neighbourhood during a morning police roll-call, said Abdel Dayem Ahmed, a senior police official.

Four suicide bombers were involved in the attack, he said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the police station bombings. Both Yemen's al-Qaeda branch and an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliate have exploited the chaos of the country's war between the Houthis and the government forces, backed by the Saudi-led coalition.

Ahmed said 11 were killed in the attack at the police station and at least 29 were wounded.

A destroyed vehicle remains at the site of a deadly attack on the Sheikh Othman police station in Aden's Omar al-Mokhtar neighbourhood. (Nariman El-Mofty/The Associated Press)

A Yemeni health official said that along with the 51 killed, at least 56 people were wounded in Thursday's attacks. Both the security and health official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Charred remains of the attackers' vehicles were seen at the scene of the police station attack, next to a metre-deep crater caused by the bombings. Doctors Without Borders tweeted that dozens of wounded were transferred to the aid group's surgical hospital in Aden, where families of the victims had gathered.

Zakarya Ahmed, a senior police officer who was inside the three-storey station when the bombings took place, described the attack as "a disaster."

"I felt myself flying in the air and falling down, hitting the floor," Ahmed said. "When I got up on my feet, I saw bodies burning, others torn into pieces."

Deadliest attacks since 2017

Thursday's attacks were the deadliest in Aden since November 2017, when the ISIS affiliate in Yemen targeted the city's security headquarters, leaving 15 dead, mostly police officers.

Deputy Interior Minister Ali Nasser Lakhsha told reporters as he inspected the site of the bombed-out police station that it was unclear who was behind the assault.

"This is a horrific terrorist attack targeting our police," the minister said.

The attackers' motorcycles were still burning at the scene as blood pooled on the staircase of the police station and the street outside was littered with shattered glass and debris from blown-out doors and windows.

Prolonged conflict

The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis, who drove out the internationally recognized government. Months later, in March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched its air campaign to prevent the rebels from overrunning the country's south. 

In the relentless campaign, Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties and killed thousands of Yemeni civilians. The Houthis, aligned with Iran, have used drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia and have also targeted vessels in the Red Sea.

The conflict, widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has killed tens of thousands of people, bringing Yemen to the brink of famine. 

Thursday's attacks in Aden came just weeks after the UAE began withdrawing thousands of its troops from Yemen, leaving behind what it says are some 90,000 trained local forces. The UAE also has high level commanders and forces in Yemen, but has pulled back 50 to 75 per cent of its forces, insiders have said.

The UAE pullout came against the backdrop of escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf amid a crisis between Washington and Tehran following the U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal with Iran.

With files from Reuters