Yemen suicide bombing kills at least 96

SANAA, Yemen (AP) - Yemen's Defense Ministry says the casualty toll in a suicide bombing at a military parade rehearsal in the capital Sanaa has risen to 96 deaths and at least 200 wounded.

Military officials said Monday's bombing, which took place near Sanaa's presidential palace, is one of the deadliest attacks in the city in years.

They say the attacker was a soldier taking part in the drill, lining up with fellow troops at a main square in the capital.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The bombing appeared to be a failed assassination attempt against the Minister of Defense, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, who arrived at the city square for the parade just minutes before the blast ripped through the area.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, but it came as the country's new political leadership has been stepping up the fight against al-Qaida militants holding large swaths of land in the nation's south.

While fighting al-Qaida militants, Yemen's new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has been embroiled in a power struggle with loyalists of ousted leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. He has sacked several of them along with family members from top positions in the armed forces, including the air force.

"This is a real massacre," said Ahmed Sobhi, one of the soldiers who witnessed the explosion. "There are piles of torn body parts, limbs, and heads. This is unbelievable. I am still shaking. The place turned into hell. I thought this only happens in movies."

The bomber detonated his explosives minutes before the arrival of the defense minister and the chief of staff, who were expected to greet the troops, the officials said. The drill was a rehearsal for a parade for the celebration of Yemen's National Day on Tuesday.

Soldiers hand-picked by their commanders from different branches of the military have been practicing together for the parade for a week, Sobhi said, citing that as evidence that the attacker was a soldier and not an infiltrator.

The site of the attack has been sealed off by Republican Guard forces for the past 24 hours in preparation for the National Day celebrations. No cars or pedestrians were allowed to enter. The Republican Guard is led by Saleh's son and one-time heir apparent, Ahmed.

Khaled Ali, another soldier, told The Associated Press over the phone from the site of the attack that the explosion was followed by heavy gunfire.

"In the mayhem, we were all running in all directions. I saw the guards of the minister surrounding him and forming a human cordon. They were firing in the air," he said.