ADEN // Seventeen people, including four Catholic nuns, were killed in Aden on Friday morning when armed men attacked a care home for the elderly run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.
Six Ethiopians, a Yemeni cook and Yemeni guards were also killed, said Khaled Haidar, whose brother Radwan was among the dead. He said his family was the first to arrive at the home in Aden’s Al Sheikh Othman district following the attack.
It was not yet clear who was responsible for the killings, but ISIL and Al Qaeda have carried out a string of attacks in the southern Yemeni city in recent months.
An Aden security official told The National that four extremist militants had knocked on the door of the home and told the guard that they wanted to visit their mother who was a resident.
“When the guard opened the door [the militants] burst in and killed the guard ... [before] ... firing on the elderly [residents] and Indian nuns at random,” the official said.
He said one Indian nun had survived by hiding inside a cold room used to store medicines.
Mr Haidar said he had spoken to the nun, who was crying and shaking. His family handed her over to resistance fighters responsible for security in Al Sheikh Othman district, he added.
The dead and injured were taken to the city’s state-run Republican hospital and a health centre run by Medecins Sans Frontieres.
A doctor at the Republican hospital told The National that some of the dead had arrived with their hands tied behind their backs. Most had been shot in the head.
Paramedics said they expected the death toll to rise as some of the wounded had serious injuries.
Officials and medics were unable to provide a figure for the number of people injured in the attack.
There were about 80 elderly residents at the home, which was established in 2000 by Missionaries of Charity, a religious order set up by Mother Teresa.
Sunita Kumar, a spokeswoman for the order in the Indian city of Kolkata, said its members were “absolutely stunned” at the killing.
“The sisters were to come back but they opted to stay on to serve people” in Yemen, she said.
She said that two of the nuns killed were from Rwanda and the other two were from India and Kenya.
Missionaries of Charity, which also runs homes for the elderly in Taez, Hodeidah and Sanaa, is the only organisation to provide such a service in Yemen.
Friday’s attack was not the first on the order in Yemen. In 1998, three of its nuns were shot dead in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah by a psychiatric patient who had volunteered to fight alongside Bosnian Muslims in 1992 before returning to Yemen.
Local religious leader Sheikh Mohammed Mahboob blamed the Aden attack on ISIL, which considers Christians to be heretics.
“The Islamic State fighters have a wrong understanding of Islam,” he said.
ISIL and Al Qaeda have been gaining ground in Aden in recent months and are now active in several neighbourhoods. Previous extremist attacks in the city have tended to target government officials and the security forces, however.
With Sanaa still in the hands of Yemen’s Houthi rebels and their allies, who seized the city in September 2014, president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi has declared Aden to be the country’s temporary capital.
* Additional reporting by Associated Press and Agence France-Presse