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 assault Thursday left 52 people dead of whom at least seven were foreigners, including medics working at a hospital in the complex, according to official figures. Army officials say they were told by survivors that the assailants separated out the foreigners to be shot in the head and chest.
In a claim of responsibility, Yemen's al-Qaida branch said it targeted the complex because it housed drone control rooms and American experts, adding that any headquarters used by the Americans in their war were legitimate targets. The Defense Ministry said Friday that 11 militants were killed in the attack.
The foreigners included two aid workers from Germany, two doctors from Vietnam, two nurses from the Philippines and a nurse from India, according to Yemen's Supreme Security Commission.
But 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. But officials from the military hospital said Friday that at least ten foreigners were killed in the attack.
Two military officials say they were told by wounded soldiers that the assailants who stormed the hospital separated out the foreigners. Then, according to the witnesses, three militants shot the foreigners.
Military officials said the majority of those killed in the hospital, both Yemeni military and foreigners, had been shot in the head.
The attack which underscored the ability of insurgents to take advantage of Yemen'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.
Other military officials said American security agents were helping with the investigations on the scene of the attack.
In recent months, Washington has 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.
Yemeni president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi met Friday with the U.N. envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar to discuss the attack. He said that "a number of assailants have been arrested," without elaborating. He added that the "criminals will not escape justice."
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to brief reporters.
Earlier on Friday, 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. 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.
Although al-Qaida militants are concentered in the southern and eastern parts of Yemen, they occasionally strike in the capital. In May 2012, a suicide bombing near the presidential palace in Sanaa killed 93 army conscripts.
Germany's foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer also announced Friday 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."