Sanaa (AFP) – Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility Friday for a brazen attack on the Yemeni defence ministry that killed 52 people, saying the complex hosted U.S. personnel behind drone strikes against its militants.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), regarded by Washington as the jihadist network’s most dangerous affiliate, has been hit by intensified U.S. drone strikes in Yemen this year.
There was no immediate evidence to support its allegation that the Sanaa complex attacked on Thursday played any role in the drone war or housed any U.S. personnel.
The 52 were killed in a hospital inside the sprawling facility. It bore the brunt of an armed assault after a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle packed with explosives into the main gate.
The city center compound was “stormed… after the mujahedeen (holy warriors) proved that it accommodates drone control rooms and American experts,” AQAP said in a statement published by its media arm on Twitter.
“As part of a policy to target drone control rooms, the mujahedeen have dealt a heavy blow to one,” it said.
“Such security headquarters in partnership with the Americans in their war on these Muslim people are a justified target wherever they may be.”
Washington condemned the attack which came as Yemeni Defence Minister Mohammed Nasser headed a military delegation on a visit to the United States.
Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said she had no information about any U.S. casualties.
Among the dead were medics from the Philippines, Germany, Vietnam and India.
The others were all hospital patients, some of them soldiers and some civilians, Yemen’s supreme security committee said.
Huge search operation
Residents said they heard gunfire and explosions throughout the night from the area which was still cordoned off on Friday morning by armoured vehicles.
Reports that the militants had readied two more car bombs prompted a massive search operation, security officials said.
Up to 25 militants took part in the assault, the officials added. The state Saba news agency said 11 of them were killed.