A suicide bomber and gunmen wearing army uniforms attacked Yemens 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 worlds top oil exporter.
The attack on Thursday began as ministry employees were arriving for work when a vehicle exploded at the compounds 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 countrys 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 hospitals 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.
Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi later visited the compound and ordered an investigation into the attack.
The Defence Ministry said militants struck at an area were construction work was going on near the compounds hospital facility.
It said that most of the gunmen were wiped out in the battle but that two had fled into a nearby building where they were pursued by security forces.
A military source put the death toll at more than 20,including medical staff,soldiers and gunmen,and said dozens were also wounded. The Yemeni Health Ministry appealed for blood donations to help save the wounded.
Violence is common in Yemen,where an interim government is fighting southern secessionists and northern Houthi rebels in addition to the al Qaeda-linked militants,as well as severe economic problems inherited from former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who was forced out of office in 2011.
Islamist insurgents were emboldened by a decline in government control over the country during protests that eventually ousted Saleh.
They seized several southern cities before being driven out in 2012 in a government offensive aided by US drone strikes.