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5 Dec, 2013 08:04

52 killed, over 160 injured after suicide bombing at Yemen defense ministry

At least 52 people, including doctors and nurses, were killed and 162 others were wounded after a suicide car bomb attack rocked Yemen’s Defense Ministry in the capital Sanaa, according to Yemen's Security Committee.

"The explosion was very violent, the whole place shook because of it and plumes of smoke rose from the building," an employee who works in a nearby building told Reuters.

Militants wearing military uniforms engaged security forces within the compound following the bombing.

“Gunfire started following the explosion at the western gate of the Ministry of Defense… men in Yemeni military uniforms entered the compound and started shooting and chasing Yemeni soldiers. It was a totally chaotic situation. I would say it continued for even more than two hours after the explosion,” managing editor of the Yemen Times, Nima Tamaddon told RT.

Some of those killed were Germans, the committee said in its statement, but it did not give a number of officers and gunmen dead.

The Yemeni Defence Ministry told the agency that the attack occurred shortly after working hours when an explosives-laden vehicle rammed into the gates of the ministry compound, located in the old district of the Yemini capital Sanaa.

A soldier mans a machine gun along a road leading to the Defence Ministry's compound after an attack in Sanaa December 5, 2013.(Reuters / Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

According to the ministry, the bomber targeted the hospital within the ministry compound, but the situation is now under control, with all the militants reportedly captured or dead following a fierce gunfight to gain control of the compound.

The gunmen reportedly shot dead a Western doctor and a Filipina nurse in front of their colleagues inside the hospital, a medical and defense ministry source told Reuters.The attackers were reportedly dressed in national military uniforms when they launched the brazen attack on the compound.

There are conflicting accounts of the number of causalities stemming from the attack. Military sources told Reuters that at least 20 were killed and dozens wounded in the attack. The Associated Press, citing Yemeni officials, said that 2 people were killed and 20 more wounded in the blast. The Red Cross, meanwhile, says that fifteen people have been confirmed dead and over 30 wounded so far.

Firefighter trucks drive to the Defence Ministry's compound after an attack in Sanaa December 5, 2013.(Reuters / Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

Officials told AP the blast badly damaged the hospital inside the complex, started a fire and blew out windows and the doors of homes and offices in the immediate vicinity. An armored vehicle was also destroyed by the explosion and resulting gunfight, with three cars parked outside the complex being reduced to charred skeletons, witnesses told the agency.

Following the attack, military helicopters could be seen hovering over the ministry complex and state television aired calls for blood donations.

Yemeni soldiers patrol a street after a suicide car bombing at the defence ministry in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 5, 2013.(AFP Photo / Mohammed Huwais)

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, although it was operationally similar to previous Al-Qaeda attacks in the region.

Yemeni security forces are engaged in an ongoing battle with regional rebels and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered one of the most virulent strains of the jihadist group in the world.

Thursday’s attack follows a series of hit-and-run attacks on officials by militants riding motorcycles.

Maintaining stability in the impoverished country, which is still struggling to recover from economic problems inherited from former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, remains a priority for Washington and its Gulf state allies.

The country is located near strategically important shipping routes and Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter.

Emergency personnel arrive at the site of a suicide car bombing at the defence ministry in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 5, 2013.(AFP Photo / Mohammed Huwais)