At least six Yemeni soldiers and two policewomen were killed when militants launched a major attack on the security headquarters and criminal investigations unit in Aden on Sunday, setting off a total of four suicide bombs and sparking a hostage crisis.
The attack was later claimed by ISIL though Al Qaeda is also active in the southern Yemeni city. Both groups have taken advantage of the ongoing war between the Yemeni government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and the Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies to expand their reach in the south of the country.
The attack began when an explosives-rigged car blew up outside the security headquarters and criminal investigations unit, which are adjacent to one another, killing six soldiers and the vehicle's driver, Agence France-Presse quoted security officials as saying.
Security chief Brigadier Shalal Shaei was initially believed to be inside the office at the time of the attack but was later confirmed safe.
Following the blast, around 30 gunmen stormed the investigations unit and freed around 50 detainees from cells, some of whom took up arms to fight security forces alongside the militants, AFP quoted a high-ranking official as saying.
The gunmen then took an unknown number of people hostage, the source said, with two policewomen killed. By late afternoon, security officials said four policemen — among them a colonel — had been freed, AFP reported.
Naji Al Kaladi, a youth activist and filmmaker in Aden, tweeted photos and video of the attacks, showing huge clouds of smoke above what he said was the criminal investigations building.
Before Sunday, ISIL had not claimed responsibility an attack in Yemen for almost a year — the last being a car bomb attack in Aden that killed dozens.
Al Qaeda has for years been the strongest militant presence in southern Yemen.
In May, pro-government troops trained by the UAE launched a major operation against the group, driving the militants from Shabwa province, their former bastion.
Military commanders involved in that campaign said the militants “fled for the hills”, but are now re-emerging to carry out insurgent attacks in Aden.