SAN’A, Yemen – Four suspected al-Qaida gunmen blasted their way into the intelligence headquarters of Yemen’s second largest city Saturday and freed several detainees in the group’s most spectacular operation since a U.S.-backed government crackdown began late last year.
The attack on the heavily protected security complex killed 11 and further bolstered U.S. concerns that Yemen’s weak central government may not be up to tackling an increasingly effective foe seemingly able to strike anywhere inside or outside the country.
“We were hit where we least expected it,” Yemeni Information Minister Hassan al-Lozy told the Al-Arabiya news channel. “This is a serious escalation from these terrorist elements.”
In a statement, the Yemeni government said the attacks bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida and resulted in the death of seven members of the security forces, three women and a child in the southern port city of Aden, about 200 miles south of the capital.
The fact that one of the most important security institutions in the country’s second largest city could be attacked reflects the state’s weakness, said analyst Mansour Hael, hinting that the attackers must have had inside help.
“The question to ask is how these attackers were able to infiltrate such a fortified security area. This raises a number of suspicions,” he said.
An eyewitness said the gunmen in military uniforms approached the building after parking their old sedan and a microbus at the nearby historic Crescent Hotel. The witness said the gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades and threw hand grenades at the building’s entrance before charging inside in a hail of bullets.