A suicide car bomb attack on an army recruiting camp for the pro-government Popular Resistance militia in Yemen’s port city of Aden killed at least 70 people and injured scores more according to medical sources, in the deadliest jihadi attack on the Yemeni city for more than a year.
The attacker drove his vehicle into a gathering of new recruits at the camp and the explosion took place in the crowded Mansoura neighborhood around 8:15am, when many people were outside commuting to work, officials said. Witnesses said the suicide bomber entered the compound behind a truck that had brought breakfast for the recruits, who had queued for the meal. They added that some recruits were buried under rubble when a roof collapsed after the blast. Medical sources could not immediately verify whether all of those killed in the attack were army recruits.
“Bodies and body parts are scattered all over the place,” said Mohammed Osman, a neighbour who rushed to the scene. “It was a massacre,” he added.
Ahmed al-Fatih, who had been working at the centre, said security at the site was lax.
“There was no consideration of security,” he said. “So it was easy for Al Qaeda or Daesh to pull off such an act,” he added.
The blast was so strong, that it broke the windows and damaged the facades of many nearby apartment buildings.
“But people did not seem bothered,” a witness 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,” he said. “It was like it was not the site of a bombing. They just watched indifferently for a while and then went about their business.”
Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders said its hospital in Aden had received 45 dead and at least 60 wounded following the explosion.
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.
The neighbourhood has been the site of multiple attacks by militants in the past year. Isis claimed responsibility for the attack later in the day on its official propaganda outlet, Amaq calling the attack a “martyrdom operation” and saying they had killed “around 60 people.”
Yemen’s second city, the temporary base of Yemen’s Gulf-backed government, has seen a wave of bombings and shootings targeting officials and security forces.
Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, is caught in a civil war between the government backed by a Saudi-led coalition and Shia Houthi rebels allied to army units who are loyal to former president, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. The campaign began after the Houthi rebels, backed by supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh who was ousted in 2012, took over parts of the country, including Sanaa, forcing the government into exile.
The Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis has pushed them out of southern Yemen, but has failed to dislodge them from the capital and the rest of the north. The government and its allies have since retaken Aden. Saudi Arabia says the Houthis are supported financially and militarily by its regional rival Iran – something Tehran denies.
More than 6,600 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Yemen since March 2015m when the airstrikes first began, and more than 80% of the population has been left in need of humanitarian aid whilst around 2.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, according to the UN.
“The humanitarian situation in Yemen is among the world’s worst crises,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen. “The scale and intensity of the humanitarian situation here is bleak – and by many measures it’s continuing to get worse.”
The war in Yemen has also affected security in Saudi Arabia, where shelling from Yemen killed three Saudi children and wounded nine other people. 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.
Yemen’s exiled government has also said it would give an “initial welcoming” to more peace talks with the rebels with a view to forming a unity government in a new Gulf-backed initiative to end the conflict after U.N.-mediated peace talks in Kuwait were suspended earlier this month with no signs of progress.
Isis as well as 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 of the Sunni-majority nation
The White House issued a statement condemning the attack, accusing the Islamic State and al-Qaida of “exploiting the political and security vacuum” in Yemen.
“It is critical for the parties in Yemen to bring a halt to the fighting as soon as possible and finalize an agreement … that achieves a lasting peace with support from the region and the international community more broadly,” the statement said.
The attack comes days after US Secretary of State John Kerry pledged $189 million (£143 million) in new US aid for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
This month a suicide bomber drove a vehicle into a large group of army reinforcements sent from Aden to fight jihadis in neighbouring Lahj, killing five soldiers. No group has claimed that attack.
This week a coalition airstrike north of Sana’a killed eight civilians including rescuers and a child.
Last month, the governor of the southern Yemeni city of Aden survived a car bomb attack targeting his convoy, the latest attempt on the city’s top official which was claimed by Isis.
In May, a suicide bomber killed at least 40 army recruits and injured 60 others when he rammed a booby-trapped car at recruits lined up to enlist for military service at a compound in Aden.