Sana’a, March 29 (DPA) Security sources said that al-Qaeda militants were responsible for a deadly explosion in southern Yemen Monday which killed more than 100 people.
One media report put the death toll at 110 in the blast at a weapons factory in Zunjubar city. However, medical sources told DPA that 50 people were killed and 52 injured in the blast in the southern Yemeni province of Abyan.
There were at least three children among those killed, doctors added.
Security sources blamed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for the attack, the official SABA news agency reported.
An investigation committee was formed by Abyan governor Saleh Husein Al-Zawary to look into the reasons behind the blast. The huge blast destroyed the entire factory.
The place is still under control of suspected al-Qaeda militants who did not allow fire fighting trucks to put out the fire, and also banned ambulances to take the victims to hospitals, SABA said.
A local source said dozens of residents went to the factory a day after it was raided by suspected al-Qaeda militants. The cause for the blast remained unclear.
However, some observers speculated that the blast was conveniently timed for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to divert attention from the ongoing protests against his rule, and allow him to portray himself as Yemen’s defender against al-Qaeda.
Saleh late Monday again rejected demands to step down, saying those who were against him should challenge him at the ballot box.
“Those greedy for power shall opt for civil discipline and choose ballot boxes, and if people put trust in them we will hand over power (to) them,” Saleh said.
Saleh surprised observers Sunday when he announced he would not quit until 2013, when fresh presidential elections are due.
On Sunday, US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates told ABC that the most active and aggressive branch of al-Qaeda was AQAP, which operates out of Yemen.
“If that government collapses or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak, then I think we’ll face some additional challenges out of Yemen,” he said, referring to calls demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a top Yemeni security official who has pledged his support for the pro-democracy protesters in Yemen, has accused Saleh was using the threat of al-Qaeda as an excuse to stay in power.
Al-Ahmar told dpa previously that Saleh also uses his alliance with the US in the fight against terrorism as another card to hold on to power.
Demonstrations began in Yemen in February, where protesters called for the ouster of Saleh who has been in power since 1978.