Defiant Yemen goes ahead with parade after bombing

Yemeni soldiers marched in a National Day parade yesterday as the president watched from behind a bullet-proof glass shield in a show of defiance after a bomber killed more than 90 troops in an attack on the ceremony’s rehearsal.

A sombre mood hung over the event – meant to celebrate the 1990 unification of north and south Yemen – but it passed off without any repeat of Monday’s bloodshed despite militant threats to carry out more attacks.

The bombing, one of the deadliest in Yemen in recent years, was a setback in its battle against Islamists linked to al-Qaeda and heightened American concerns over a country in the front line of Washington’s global war on militants.

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Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its affiliate Ansar al-Sharia (“Partisans of Islamic Law”) both claimed responsibility.

Heavy security surrounded president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and senior civilian and military officials as they watched yesterday’s parade, which was moved from the scene of the attack at Sabaeen Square to the air force academy in Sanaa.

Mr Hadi, who took over after former president Ali Abdullah Saleh surrendered power in November following months of protests against his 33-year rule, told victims’ families on Monday that the fight against al-Qaeda would carry on undaunted.

Patrols were stepped up across the city and dozens of police stood guard at street intersections. Few people ventured out, partly due to the holiday and partly for fear of more attacks.

“We are sad for our comrades, but al-Qaeda will not scare us,” said Khaled al-Ansi, a soldier stationed in central Sanaa.

Monday’s huge explosion, carried out by a man in a military uniform in the middle of the tightly-packed parade rehearsal, killed more than 90 people and wounded at least 220, according to the defence ministry.

A Yemeni investigator said the bomber was probably a rogue soldier recruited by al-Qaeda.

Turkish ambassador Fazli Corman, who attended the ceremony, said: “Everyone was relieved at the end that it went safely.

“All the foreign ambassadors were there, it was a strong message of solidarity,” he said.

Hamoud al-Hitar Hitar, an expert on Islamist groups, said the incident showed how dangerous and organised al-Qaeda was, as it was able to reach into the heart of the army.

He said a similar attack was likely to happen again.

He added: “Al-Qaeda now have a large and strong stock-pile of weapons including tanks, rockets, Katyushas. All that they are missing are planes.”

Saeed Obaid, a Yemeni researcher of Islamist groups, said al-Qaeda wanted to control all Yemen and to spread its influence across the Middle East.

He said: “Al-Qaeda will definitely continue to perpetrate these terrorist attacks, but they are unlikely to be on such a grand scale. The point al-Qaeda made through this attack was to flex its muscles and show its strength.”

Washington is increasing its support for Mr Hadi’s government and the US military has targeted militants in Yemen with drones – which have frequently killed civilians and are deeply resented by Yemenis, even the many who abhor al-Qaeda.

A diplomatic source in Yemen said that between 60 and 70 United States military experts have arrived in Yemen from Bahrain over the past two weeks to help in the fight against al-Qaeda.

Some have given direction – while not directly participating – in army assaults this month on towns controlled by the militants in the country’s south.