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Suicide Attack Kills Scores of Military Recruits in Aden, Yemen

The Islamic State called the car bombing, in the crowded Mansoura neighborhood, a “martyrdom operation.”
Photo
The scene of the car bombing in Aden, Yemen, on Monday. The Islamic State called the attack a “martyrdom operation,” and it said that “around 60 people” had been killed. Credit Fawaz Salman/Reuters

CAIRO — A powerful car bomb rocked the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, on Monday morning, killing at least 54 young military recruits who were preparing to join government forces and wounding scores, officials said.

The explosion took place in the crowded Mansoura neighborhood around 8:15 a.m., a time when many people were outside commuting to work, officials said. Mansoura has been the site of multiple attacks by militants in the past year.

The Islamic State, through its Amaq News Agency, called the attack a “martyrdom operation” and said it killed “around 60 people.”

The terrorist group and the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda have exploited the chaos of the country’s long-running civil war to exercise control in certain areas, especially in the south.

“It’s been a shaky morning,” Hassan Boucenine, who leads the Yemeni branch of Doctors Without Borders, said after witnessing the attack. “The explosion rocked my windows, and I was like 300 meters away. It was not nice. But we are treating everyone.”

The medical organization said on Twitter that at least 45 people had been killed, and that 60 others were wounded, but Al-Khadher Laswar, a Health Ministry official in Aden, said the death toll was 54 people, with 67 wounded. At least one child, a 6-year-old boy, was among the wounded, according to Malak Shaher, a spokeswoman for Doctors Without Borders.

The killed and wounded recruits, most in their 20s and 30s, were signing up for military training in Djibouti and Eritrea, another official said. There, the newcomers would have been prepared to fight Shiite Houthi rebels in the north of Yemen, near the border with Saudi Arabia, he added.

The official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to discuss the attack publicly, said that witnesses had told him that the blast had occurred after a speeding vehicle drove through the gate of a school, which was being used for the military recruitment. Troops had opened the gate to let through a truck that was delivering food for the recruits.

The war between the internationally recognized government, led by President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and the Houthi rebels, backed by his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in 2012, has torn Yemen apart.

Pro-government militia fighters, dressed in military fatigues, sealed off the bombing site to rescue the remaining recruits, inspect what remained of the car and clear the rubble, according to witnesses. “There was blood and small parts of the car almost everywhere in the yard and on the steps,” said Wael al-Qabati, a local journalist at the scene.

The blast was so strong, he said, that it broke the windows and damaged the facades of many nearby apartment buildings.

“But people did not seem bothered,” Mr. Qabati said. “They have gotten so used to bombings, no one panics anymore.”

He added that he had seen women and children come out to watch rescue efforts. “No one looked shocked or scared. It was like it was not the site of a bombing,” he said. “They just watched indifferently for a while and then went about their business.”

Mr. Boucenine, the Doctors Without Borders chief, also noticed the unusual calmness of many of the city’s residents. “Although the blast was a big shock, there was no widespread panic at all,” he said.

He added: “We have seen many civilian clothes on victims. The hospital is very crowded. Most hospitals have shut down. We are alone here, and we really need help.”

Over 600 health facilities nationwide have been forced to close since violence began, the United Nations says.

Many relatives of victims of Monday’s attack blamed the authorities for the deaths and injuries, said Mr. Qabati, the journalist.

“The families kept asking people at the hospitals, where their sons are, why the government did not properly secure the center,” he said. “They were angry.”

Since the fighting between rival factions intensified in March 2015, missile and rocket attacks across Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia, which is leading an American-backed coalition against the Houthis, have been common.

A spokesman for the government could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.

In response to the increased deadly attacks on its border, Saudi Arabia recently set in motion a plan to recruit 5,000 Yemenis to protect its southern provinces, particularly Jizan and Najran, Yemeni officials said.

The conflict in Yemen has killed about 9,000 people, including 3,218 civilians, since March 2015, according to the United Nations.

It remains unclear how heavily protected the military recruitment center in Aden was.

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