ADEN, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni security forces launched a sweep in the capital to find the perpetrators of a deadly attack on the country's Defense Ministry, sparking clashes that left five suspected militants and one member of the special forces dead, officials said Friday.
The brazen Thursday attack claimed by al-Qaida's local branch in Yemen killed 52 people including at least seven foreigners, and underscored the ability of insurgents to take advantage of the country's instability and tenuous security — even at the headquarters of its military.
The assault on the ministry involved a suicide car bomb, and the ministry also came under heavy gunfire from nearby houses. Security forces raided several homes in the ministry's vicinity over the next 24 hours, sparking the clashes.
Al-Qaida gained a major foothold in Yemen's south amid the chaos that followed the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The drone strikes and a series of U.S.-backed military offensives helped uproot militants from several key strongholds, but al-Qaida continues to fight back.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to brief reporters.
Among the dead at the Defense Ministry complex, which also houses a military hospital, were soldiers and civilians. Seven were foreigners, according to Yemen's Supreme Security Commission, which issued the casualty figures — two aid workers from Germany, two doctors from Vietnam, two nurses from the Philippines and a nurse from India. Among the Yemeni civilians killed were a doctor and a senior judge, it said.
A spokesman for the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs, Raul Hernandez, said on Friday that seven Filipinos were killed in the attack, including a doctor and nurses, while 11 others were wounded. The victims were among 40 Filipino workers in the hospital inside the complex. Hernandez said that the Philippines' honorary consul reported that the others survived by pretending to be dead.
It was not immediately possible to reconcile the Yemeni death toll with the account from the Philippines.
Also on Friday, Germany's foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer announced that German employees of aid groups doing work on behalf of the German government have been ordered to leave Yemen "as quickly as possible" and "until further notice."
Schafer also said the German embassy will continue to operate with reduced staff and "corresponding security measures."
The media arm of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Mallahem, said on its Twitter account that it targeted the Defense Ministry building because it "accommodates drone control rooms and American experts." It said security headquarters used by the Americans in their war are "legitimate targets."
The United States considers the Yemeni al-Qaida branch to be the most active in the world. In recent months, Washington has sharply escalated drone attacks against the militants in the impoverished nation. U.S. forces also have been training and arming Yemeni special forces, and exchanging intelligence with the central government.