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Dozens Dead in Yemen Police Academy Bomb as Houthis Targeted

Wednesday, 07 Jan 2015 07:18 AM

(Updates with comments from Interior Ministry in second paragraph, analysts starting in fifth.)

(Bloomberg) -- A bombing killed dozens of people at the police academy in Yemen’s capital today, targeting Houthi Shiite rebels seeking to consolidate their power in the nation.

Yemen’s Interior Ministry reported at least 33 people were killed and about 62 injured in the bombing in Sana’a. About 300 students were at the academy, according to a security official, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. The final death toll is still being determined.

“The blast was huge and my house was shaking,” Zaid Ali, a witness, said by phone. “It was totally chaotic.” Al-Masirah television, which is allied to the Houthis, and some witnesses reported it was a car bombing.

The academy is controlled by the Houthis, who seized Sana’a last year after advancing from their northern base and forcing President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi to form a new government. Members of Sunni Al-Qaeda and tribal fighters have stepped up attacks on the Shiite fighters, raising the prospect of the state’s collapse along sectarian lines and alarming neighbor Saudi Arabia.

“The more the Houthis continue to weaken the state, the more they give al-Qaeda the chance to flourish and boost its position,” Majed al-Mathhaji, an independent analyst in Sana’a, said in an interview before today’s attack.

Sunni Discrimination

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the strike on the police academy, Al-Qaeda said it carried out more than 60 attacks, mostly against the Houthis, in December, according to a tally by Bloomberg. An explosion on Dec. 31 killed 23 people at a Houthi celebration in the central province of Ibb.

Insecurity in Yemen has spiraled since popular unrest drove President Ali Abdullah Saleh from power in 2011. His successor Hadi, installed under a peace plan backed by Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies, struggled to restore order in the nation of 25 million.

The Houthis, who follow a branch of Shiite Islam called Zaidi, have said they are seeking to root out corruption and end decades of discrimination from Yemen’s Sunni majority. Since their ascent, they have ignored pleas to pull out of the capital, guarded key ministries and the central bank, and taken control of Yemen’s second-largest port on the Red Sea and a crossing post on the Saudi border. Their integration into the army and security forces is also under way.

‘Turning Point’

Abdulmalik al-Ejri, a member of the Houthis’ political council, said in a phone interview on Dec. 31 that the group’s territorial expansion is meant to push back al-Qaeda after the state failed to confront the militants.

Those gains are now being challenged and amid the violence sectarian lines are hardening, with the Houthis losing support among Yemenis who initially tolerated them, according to Danya Greenfield, a Yemen specialist at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

“This is definitely a real turning point,” Greenfield said of the string of anti-Houthi attacks. “There is going to be a long bloodletting back and forth in trying to define who has the upper hand.”

The Houthis, who last month rejected a draft constitution dividing Yemen into six federal states, have publicly set their sights on Marib, a region rich in oil and gas. Yet local tribes there have vowed to confront them and opponents in the southern city of Taiz have also held anti-Houthi protests.

The Houthis may find further conquests difficult, Charles Schmitz, a professor who studies Yemen at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland, said.

“I think they’ve lost their momentum,” Schmitz said by phone yesterday. “Now they have to work out how they’re going to relate to the Yemeni state.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Mohammed Hatem in Sana’a at mhatem1@bloomberg.net; Nafeesa Syeed in Dubai at nsyeed@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at asalha@bloomberg.net Mark Williams, Karl Maier

© Copyright 2017 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

 
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2015-18-07
Wednesday, 07 Jan 2015 07:18 AM
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