'Al-Qaeda' Wreaks Yemen Carnage

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Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter. This is "The World". Yemen is a front line country in the global fight against terrorism. In fact, the US has recently stepped up its drone strikes against militants there. Today, the militants replied with a strike of their own.

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As Yemeni soldiers rehearsed for a military parade in the capital, Sanaa, a suicide bomber among them set off a horrific explosion. Officials say it killed more than ninety soldiers and wounded hundreds more. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility, saying in a statement that it was revenge for attacks on its militants by US and Yemeni forces. Jamie Doran is a producer for our partner program, FRONTLINE. He recently returned from Yemen where he filmed the very unit of elite soldiers attacked this morning. He joins us from his office in Windsor, England. Jamie, what can you tell us about these particular soldiers and why they were targeted?

Jamie Doran: Well, largely because the soldiers come under General Yahya Saleh. Now he is the nephew of President Saleh, former President Saleh. He's also one of the most powerful men in Yemen, and I think what al-Qaeda was doing was basically saying, "Wherever you are, we can get you." Showing that they can basically get their own infiltrators wherever it's possible. You have to understand that Yahya's soldiers are renown for being very loyal to him and yet here al-Qaeda manage to infiltrate. It's quite extraordinary.

Schachter: Now, these troops are referred to as "elite soldiers", these ones under Mr. Saleh. Is that the case? Are they well trained, well equipped, and so on?

Doran: Well, in terms of Yemeni military, they're certainly amongst the very, very best, but I have to add a [??] there in the sense that the Yemeni army is not the most effective army in the world by a couple of million miles. It's this power vacuum that has allowed al-Qaeda to grow in the south and indeed to operate way beyond. But no, I'm not sure if many people were quite expecting such a spectacular and awful attack as today.

Schachter: Did you get a chance to see this group training?

Doran: I did. I manged to, I was with them, in fact, when they were, it wasn't really training, they were actually missing, literally thousands of them in a big field nearby where the bombing was today. And of course the boss was there, Yahya Saleh was there, and I interviewed him at the time and he was really insistent on emphasizing how dangerous al-Qaeda had become, how widespread it had become. But, in fact, many people in Yemen believe that it was his uncle, the former President, who actually allowed this to happen in order to actually, if you like, be requested to come back into power and become the savior of Yemen once again, but it doesn't look as if that's going to happen now.

Schachter: What is the security situation like in Sanaa? Why does it say that this group could strike at the heart of the Yemeni capital?

Doran: The security situation in Sanaa is disastrous. You have so many rival groups. You have tribal groups that have huge power and hold large [??] of the city. You have different army groups, opposing army groups. It's absolutely perfect for al-Qaeda to thrive.

Schachter: So, in a sense, it sounds like you weren't especially surprised by this attack. It wasn't a question of whether, but when?

Doran: I think this is the first of many. I think you're going to see it happen across Yemen. You will see a heavy reaction in the south mainly because, of course, you have this so-called advance of twenty-five thousand soldiers against al-Qaeda. Now, remember al-Qaeda is supposed to only have a few members. Why twenty-five thousand army personnel can't destroy al-Qaeda or push them out is a kind of difficult one for them to answer. The truth is that the army, the northern army is seen as an occupation force in the south, and the tribes in the south tend more towards al-Qaeda than to the army itself. So I think Yemen itself for quite a long time is going to be a dangerous land not just for Yemenis, but obviously, as al-Qaeda gains more support there are going to be more bomb plots like the ones we've seen recently.

Schachter: Jamie Doran is a producer for FRONTLINE. His film "Al-Qaeda in Yemen" airs May 29th. Jamie, thank you for joining us.

Doran: Thank you.