SANAA (Reuters) - A car bomb exploded outside a police college in Yemen’s capital Sanaa on Wednesday, killing 35 people and wounding dozens in an attack authorities blamed on Al Qaeda militants.
It was the second bombing in Yemen to cause multiple casualties in a week, following a suicide attack last Thursday that killed 26 people at a cultural center in Ibb city.
Police Brigadier Abdulaziz al-Qudsi said a booby-trapped vehicle with a driver and passenger in the front had been parked near where people waiting to register were standing by the college wall at about 7 a.m. (0400 GMT).
The pair then got out and left the scene, then the bus exploded, he said, according to state news agency Saba. A total of 35 people were killed and 68 wounded, Qudsi said.
“The situation is catastrophic. We arrived to find bodies piled on top of each other,” a paramedic at the scene told Reuters as ambulances took casualties away.
“We found the top part of one person yelling, while his bottom half was completely severed.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but an official source in Yemen’s Supreme Security Committee, cited by Saba, blamed “Al Qaeda terrorist elements” for carrying out the attack.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the Sunni militant group’s most active wings, had staged increasing numbers of attacks across Yemen.
Sectarian conflict in Yemen has worsened since September when Shi‘ite Muslim Houthi militia seized Sanaa, deepening political divides that spawned a popular uprising in 2011 and led to a change of government and splits in the army.
The victims from the latest blast included students at the college and people waiting in line to enroll with the police as well as passers-by, police sources said.
A policeman told Reuters that another car had been passing as the bomb went off and was set on fire along with everyone inside.
The explosion sent a large plume of smoke into the sky above a congested part of the city near the central bank and defense ministry.
The U.S. Embassy in Yemen condemned the attack, saying it showed the “nihilistic vision and depravity of terror groups operating in Yemen”.
Western and Gulf Arab countries fear instability could weaken the government, giving AQAP more space to plot attacks outside Yemen’s borders. Yemen shares a long border with major oil exporter Saudi Arabia.
Yemen’s army has launched several campaigns to dislodge al Qaeda with the help of U.S. drone strikes, but the militants have entrenched themselves in largely lawless parts of the Arabian Peninsula country where it has sympathy from some Sunni tribes.
Most attacks in the past four years have targeted Yemen’s security infrastructure. A suicide bomber killed more than 90 people in May 2012 at a military parade, and a coordinated assault on a military hospital a year ago killed more than 50.
Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Angus McDowall; Editing by Angus MacSwan