At least 20 dead as suicide bomber attacks Yemen’s Defence Ministry

YemenScenes from Yemen Defence Ministry’s after the attack, in Sanaa on Thursday. (Reuters)

A suicide bomber and gunmen wearing army uniforms attacked Yemen's Defence Ministry compound in the capital Sanaa on Thursday, killing at least 20, including foreign medical staff, sources said, in the worst single attack in Yemen in 18 months.

Medical sources said the gunmen targeted the medical personnel on duty, killing as many as four doctors and four nurses. Government officials were not available to confirm the deaths.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but a Yemeni expert on Islamist militant affairs said the "suicide nature of the attack" pointed to al Qaeda.

The security threat from the terror group is an international concern as the US-allied country shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter.

The attack on Thursday began as ministry employees were arriving for work when a vehicle exploded at the compound's gate, two sources inside the ministry said.

"The attack took place shortly after working hours started at the ministry, when a suicide bomber drove a car into the gate," the Defence Ministry source said.

The massive blast shook the bustling Bab al-Yemen neighbourhood. Plumes of smoke billowed over the area, where the country's central bank is also located.

Security forces retook the compound after killing most of the attackers, the Defence Ministry said in a statement, making no reference to a suicide attacker.

Medics and a Defence Ministry official said the gunmen pulled a Western doctor and a Filipina nurse into the hospital's courtyard and shot them in front of local staff.

A medical source who works at one of the hospitals where some of the victims were taken said a total of two female Yemeni doctors, a Filipino surgeon, a Western doctor and four foreign nurses from India and the Philippines were gunned down.

Ambulance sirens and gunshots were heard after the blast as a second vehicle entered the compound carrying armed men dressed in Yemeni army uniforms and exchanged fire with soldiers.

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