SANAA, Yemen – The death toll of a suspected al-Qaida attack on a Yemeni intelligence headquarters rose to 20 on Saturday, in the worst such attack in a year that highlights the challenges faced by the country’s new leadership.
The attack, in the heart of the port city of Aden, underscored al-Qaida’s ability to launch deadly strikes despite a two-month Yemeni military offensive backed by the U.S. that earlier this year dislodged militants who had taken over a string of southern towns near Aden.
In a coordinated attack, two groups of masked militants stormed the intelligence building from two sides, firing automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, according to intelligence officials in the city and witnesses from the adjacent state TV and radio building.
While one group clashed with guards of the intelligence building’s main gate, a second threw a bomb at a small mosque, killing soldiers who were resting and sleeping inside, officials said. The gunmen then sprayed their victims with bullets before detonating a car bomb in front of the intelligence building, collapsing its facade.
Witnesses said they saw gunmen open fire on three soldiers at a front gate, killing them on the spot, before launching rocket-propelled grenades at the building and mistakenly hitting the television offices. Two female reporters were critically wounded, witnesses said.
By the end of the day, 20 were dead. All were military and security men except for one civilian, while six other civilians were injured aside from the reporters.
The same intelligence building had come under attack in 2010 by al-Qaida. Saturday’s attack carries the fingerprints of the group, a security official said.
The United States considers al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula as the terror network’s most dangerous offshoot, held responsible for several failed attacks on U.S. targets.