Yemen death toll in arms plant blast may top 100
A powerful blast at a factory making weapons and explosives in southern Yemen killed scores of people on Monday after the facility was briefly taken over by Islamic militants and then looted by residents of the area, officials said.
At least 78 people were killed in the explosion, The Associated Press reported. Other media organizations, citing hospital officials, have said the death toll may have exceeded 100.
Many women and children from the surrounding villages were killed in the explosion, which left bodies blackened and burned, said medical and security officials in Abyan province. The blast appeared to be accidental but there was no word on the exact cause.
On Sunday, militants took over the factory and the nearby the town of Jaar, taking advantage of the country's deteriorating security as an unprecedented wave of anti-government protests threatens the president who has ruled the impoverished and divided nation for 32 years.
The fighters took what they wanted and left. Later, locals entered the facility to loot it, said resident Walid Mohammed Muqbil. The factory makes munitions, Kalashnikov weapons and explosives used in road construction in the mountainous area.
Among the wounded, 27 people were in critical condition.
Factory seized by militants
Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. The factory was seized on Sunday by one of the many militant groups roaming Yemen's largely lawless hinterlands called the Salafi Jihad.
Officials at al-Razi hospital in Jaar confirmed that dozens of the victims were brought to the hospital and some very critical cases were sent to a hospital in the nearby port city of Aden.
Chinese factory workers left the facility several days ago because of the political turmoil and the absence of security in the area, Muqbil said.
Another resident, Seif Mohammed, said the blast could be heard as far as 15 kilometers from the factory.
Weeks of unrest
Yemen has been hit by weeks of political turmoil and deteriorating security as protesters throughout the country demand the president's ouster and the introduction of political freedoms. A government crackdown has killed 92 protesters, according to the Shiqayiq Forum for Human Rights.
As the situation has escalated, police and security forces have withdrawn from some towns and cities in Yemen, chased out by protesters in some cases.
The area around the weapons factory was one of them.
The deputy governor of Abyan province, Saleh al-Samty, blamed the national government for the tragedy, saying it was a result of the lack of order resulting from security units abandoning their posts.