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ADEN, Yemen, Oct 6, (Agencies): Islamic State in Yemen on Tuesday claimed coordinated suicide bombings targeting the Yemeni government and the Arab military coalition in the southern city of Aden that killed 15 Arab and Yemeni troops.
The bombings were Islamic State’s first known attacks on the Yemeni administration, which had made the al-Qasr hotel in the northwest of the port city its headquarters since it returned to Yemen last month. Prime Minister and Vice-President Khaled Bahah and his ministers escaped unharmed, and their spokesman said they would remain in Aden to continue their work. At two Gulf Arab military facilities that were also bombed, at least four Emirati soldiers were killed, according to the UAE state news agency WAM.
A Yemeni official said 11 Yemeni troops had died in the attacks. “In a blessed operation facilitated by God, four martyrdom operations targeted a gathering of Saudi, Emirati and Yemeni officers,” Islamic State said in a statement. The group had previously refrained from openly targeting Yemen’s government and the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting the Iran-allied Houthis for over six months. But its attacks come as the Yemeni government, newly returned from exile in Saudi Arabia, is trying to restore order in Aden following the expulsion of the Houthis by Yemeni and Gulf Arab troops in July. Islamist militants of various factions had tried to establish themselves in the city, but faced opposition from local militias.
Islamic State, which is centred in Iraq and Syria, first emerged in Yemen in March with a series of suicide attacks on Shiite Muslim mosques in which 137 people died. Two of the suicide bombers were driving Yemeni military vehicles, a Yemeni military source told Reuters. Coalition countries and some Yemeni officials had earlier blamed the Houthis for the attacks. Islamic State distributed pictures on Twitter showing smiling men it said were the suicide bombers and the hotel at the moment it was hit by a big orange fireball.
The plush al-Qasr hotel was serving as informal headquarters of the administration and of Emirati troops based in the city. Salem al-Yazidi, a Yemeni fighter with a local militia allied with Hadi, described chaotic scenes when he rushed to aid the victims of the blast at the hotel. “There was a big hole in the ground and what looked like the limbs of the bomber around it,” Yazidi told Reuters. UAE officials had blamed the IS controls large swaths of Iraq’s north and west, including its second-largest city of Mosul and most of Anbar province. It regularly targets Shiite neighborhoods and government installations in an effort to destabilize the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. The United States protested Monday the opening of Baghdad’s “Green Zone” to the public, after 12 years of closure of the heavily fortified area home to top Iraqi political institutions and embassies.
The four-square-mile (10-square-kilometer) International Zone of Baghdad was already the seat of government power under former president Saddam Hussein and became known as the Green Zone after the 2003 US-led invasion. “We have repeated voiced our concerns over the easing of these restrictions,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. “We’re obviously monitoring the security conditions very closely as this easing takes place, these actions take place, and are going to continue to adjust our security posture as needed.” The Iraqi measure, announced Sunday, still keeps many restrictions. It offers limited access to the vast area, with most streets still requiring a special badge, but it is likely to be popular nonetheless and ease traffic congestion. Toner said the Iraqi authorities had kept the US government informed throughout the process as they prepared to reopen the Green Zone. US troops withdrew from Baghdad in late 2011, but the US Embassy and travel by US officials are still under heavy security provided by American armed forc