SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Grieving Yemenis held somber ceremonies Tuesday to mark the country’s National Day following a suicide bombing a day earlier that killed nearly 100 soldiers and deeply shook the faith of many people in the nation’s future.
Months of mass protests pushed longtime authoritarian ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh from power early this year, fueling hopes that the Arab world’s poorest country finally could get on track. But Monday’s blast during a rehearsal for a military parade that left scenes of carnage in the capital made clear to many in Yemen just how daunting the challenges facing the country are.
“No holidays, no revolutions and no state. Nothing. Everything is over,” said teacher Assiya Thabit at Sanaa’s Change Square, which was the heart of the anti-Saleh uprising. “We are following in the footsteps of Somalia and Afghanistan.”
Deeply shocked by the bloodshed, some Yemenis lashed out at Mr. Saleh, suspecting that his associates had a hand in the violence.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has been in a behind-the-scenes power struggle with Mr. Saleh since taking over from him in February as part of a U.S.-backed power transfer deal, led a symbolic parade held inside Sanaa’s Aviation Academy on Tuesday for National Day, which marks the 1990 reunification of north and south Yemen.
Sitting behind a bulletproof glass shield, Mr. Hadi was joined by top military commanders, government officials and foreign diplomats.
Security concerns were paramount, and the parade, which originally was planned for a major square in central Sanaa, was scaled back and moved to the academy after Monday’s attack, when a Yemeni soldier detonated a bomb hidden in his uniform during a rehearsal for the military parade.
Ninety-six soldiers were killed and at least 200 wounded in what was one of the deadliest attacks in the capital in years.
Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen claimed responsibility for the blast, saying in an emailed statement that the bombing was intended to avenge a U.S.-backed offensive against al Qaeda in a swath of southern Yemen seized by the militant movement last year.
Addressing the crowd Tuesday, the chief of staff of the Yemeni military, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Ali al-Ashwal, vowed the nation would not back down in the face of such attacks.
“We will not let terrorism destroy our future and dreams,” he said.
Gen. al-Ashwal was the only official to speak at the short ceremony. The parade was cut from three hours to one, a flyover by fighter jets was canceled, and only cadets from the police and aviation academies participated in the program.
Military officials said the bomber belonged to the Central Security, a paramilitary force commanded by Mr. Saleh’s nephew Yahia Saleh. The bomber detonated his explosives in the midst of the Central Security unit as it received orders to pass in front of the parade viewing stand where both the defense minister and the military chief of staff were sitting.