By Jamie Crawford
Just hours after the new Yemeni president left for a conference in Saudi Arabia, members of the Yemeni military loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh attacked the country's defense ministry on Tuesday.
Hundreds of Republican Guards tied to Saleh and his son, laid siege the building near the center of Sanaa on Tuesday, a Defense Ministry official said told CNN. Four people were killed and nine injured, said the official, who did not wish to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media. The former president and his family still wield a considerable amount of influence inside the military and other sectors in Yemen.
Journalist Hakim Almasmari is in Sanaa and reported on the attack for CNN. He spoke with Security Clearance on Tuesday morning.
Security Clearance: What is the situation like in Sanaa at the moment?
Almasmari: Right now it is calmer than it was hours ago. Hours ago the (Defense) Ministry was besieged, taken over or there was an attempt to be taken over by gunmen loyal to the former regime's president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his son. These gunmen were heavily armed with heavy artillery ready for war, and the time they came for this seizure was only hours after President (Abdu Rabu Mansour) Hadi left the country for Saudi Arabia to attend the (Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting). So, this was something that was pre-planned … waiting for the president to leave the country in order to cause some more chaos in the country.
Security Clearance: Who is behind this attack?
Almasmari: These attackers were gunman loyal to the former president. They were members of the Republican Guards who are demanding that they continue to stay under direct command of former President Ali Abdulah Saleh and his son (Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh). They were transferred to another leadership earlier this week, so this is really more of putting pressure on President Hadi to warn him that any military reforms or reconstruction of the military that hurts or harms the former ruling family will cost them severely, and cost the country a civil war from within.
Security Clearance: Is the targeting of the Defense Ministry seen as a significant escalation inside Yemen?
Almasmari: This is by far the most dangerous attempt over the last two years, or during the entire political crisis here. This is the first time the Defense Ministry was attacked by gunmen who are ready and declared for a long term fight. Two weeks ago, the Interior Ministry was taken over by gunmen, but that was nowhere close to what happened today. This is in the … heart of the capital and gunshots were heard throughout the entire capital. Residents were forced to evacuate and were scared of being shot and killed. The entire capital was unstable for four hours.
Security Clearance: What led to the calming of the situation?
Almasmari: Three hours ago the Interior Ministry sent 240 troops to re-enforce the ministry guards. That helped calm the situation, and also senior military leaders helped talk to the gunmen to intervene. Since then it is not as dangerous as it was. It is less tense here than it was an hour ago.
Security Clearance: Looking forward, do you see the current situation getting worse?
Almasmari: What happened today is only the beginning of a long, long-term fight between the new president and the former president. What we saw today is nothing compared to what we expect to see in the weeks to come. We expect to have more clashes, more wars within the capital itself, ministries being occupied, gunmen lurking every street corner, instability and signs that the country will not stabilize if President Hadi insists on military reforms. Anything that deals with removing the former regime from power will result in more escalation and more clashes with both sides.
Security Clearance: Is this just about the Saleh family, or is there more to it?
Almasmari: This will keep going on and on and on, especially after what we saw in Egypt the other day where [President Mohammed] Morsy took out the military leadership under Mubarak. They fear that this could be the case in Yemen. This also comes just two days after the prime minister in Yemen threatened to step aside and join the revolution if President Hadi does not come up with strict and firm military reforms to ensure that the former ruling family is out of the military completely.