A suicide bombing on Thursday killed at least 43 people, including several children, in the capital city of Yemen, a nation that President Obama has recently put forth as a model of U.S. counter-terrorism efforts.
The blast struck as hundreds of people were arriving in Sanaa's Tahrir Square for a demonstration called by the Houthis, the powerful Shi'ite Muslim group that seized the capital on September 21. With dozens more critically wounded, the death toll is expected to rise.
At least 20 government soldiers were killed in a separate suicide car bombing and gun attack in the country's east on Thursday.
According to Reuters:
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the incidents appear to mirror previous bombings carried out by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has targeted state institutions, including the armed forces, and which sees members of the minority Zaydi sect of Shi'ite Islam as heretics.
Western and Gulf Arab countries are worried that instability in Yemen could strengthen al Qaeda and have supported a U.N.-backed political transition since 2012 led by Hadi meant to shepherd the country to stability after decades of autocracy.
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Thursday's demonstration, which protesters said would continue despite the attacks, was in opposition to the recent nomination of Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak to prime minister, "on the grounds that his selection had been imposed by Washington," Reuters reports. The U.S. has denied the allegation. Political unrest has escalated in Yemen in recent weeks.
In a speech on September 10 in which he laid out his strategy for fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, Obama held up American involvement in Yemen—marked by drone strikes that have killed innocent civilians—as a success to emulate.
"This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years," he said.
The comparison immediately drew criticism from those who pointed out that the U.S.'s missions in those two countries are neither successful nor complete.
"The President's citing of the success of American military policy in Somalia and Yemen show how intellectually and morally dishonest this administration, like the previous administration, is," said Matthew Hoh, a former U.S. Marine and diplomat who resigned over the failed policy in Afghanistan and is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. "Both nations are chaotic and violent and American military action, particularly drone strikes that often kill innocents have not diminished al Shabaab in Somalia or al-Qaeda in Yemen, rather those groups continue to operate and enjoy the recruitment benefits of American airstrikes against Somalia and Yemeni civilians, as well as how American actions play into their propaganda narratives and raison d'être."