SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen’s Defense Ministry said on Friday it had regained full control of its Sanaa military compound a day after a militant attack that killed 52 people, and an al Qaeda-affiliated group claimed responsibility for the assault.
Troops killed 11 militants in the violence triggered by a suicide bomber and gunmen wearing army uniforms, the ministry said. Also among the dead were medics from Germany, Vietnam, India and the Philippines, and 167 people were wounded.
It was the worst such attack in 18 months, heightening international concerns about threats emanating from a state that shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, and flanks key international shipping lanes.
The interim Yemeni government is fighting southern secessionists and northern rebels in addition to al Qaeda-linked militants, who are seeking to overthrow the government and impose their version of Islamic law.
A Defense Ministry statement said three of the militants were killed at the compound’s gate, three inside the premises after they had killed the foreign medics in a hospital there, while five others were pursued and killed later on Thursday.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), an offshoot of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in Yemen and among the most active and strongest arms of the global jihadi network.
“As part of the policy of targeting the operation rooms of pilotless planes, the mujahideen (holy fighters) have heavily struck one of these rooms in Defense Ministry headquarters,” Ansar al-Sharia said in a Twitter post early on Friday.
“Such joint military locations, which participate with the Americans in their war against this Muslim nation, are a legitimate target for our operations,” another tweet said.
The U.S. military raised its alert status in the region after the coordinated strikes on the ministry.
Murad Batal al-Shishani, a London-based analyst of Islamist groups, told Reuters the attack was likely to strengthen American-Yemeni cooperation against security threats.
“I don’t know about the (U.S.) drone program (targeting militants), if this will escalate it or not. But generally, this will not affect the relationship. It will give them more reason to cooperate,” he said.
Shishani said Thursday’s attack, which combined a suicide bombing with a shooting spree, looked like an attempt “to copycat the Mumbai-style attack”, referring to a 2008 assault on two hotels in the Indian city that killed nearly 200 people.
He said it also echoed Islamist militant attacks this year on a desert natural gas plant in Algeria and the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, Kenya.
“They’re resorting to this sort of tactic because it gains more media coverage, and it shakes the trust of the normal people in the security agencies. They say, ‘You see, it’s easy to attack and we have done that.’ That’s the message they’re trying to send,” said Shishani.
Yemen is also grappling with severe economic problems inherited from former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced out of office by a popular uprising in 2011.
Islamist insurgents took advantage of the chaos triggered by Saleh’s overthrow to seize several southern cities, but were driven out in 2012 in a government offensive assisted by U.S. drone strikes.
AQAP militants have since killed hundreds of Yemeni soldiers and members of the security forces in a series of attacks, particularly in southern provinces.
In July 2012, a suicide bomber wearing a Yemeni army uniform killed more than 90 people rehearsing for a military parade in the capital. AQAP later claimed responsibility.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa and Stephen Kalin in Dubai; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Mark Heinrich