A Yemeni forensic policeman collects evidence at the site of a suicide bombing… (Yahya Arhab / EPA )
SANA, Yemen -- A suicide bomber targeting soldiers rehearsing for a military parade killed as many as 96 people Monday in a sign that Islamic militants are taking their fight to the capital after intense battles in the provinces with U.S.-backed government forces in recent weeks.
The blast appeared to mark a shift in tactics by an Al Qaeda-linked group that for months had been concentrating on towns in the south. It indicated that militants, who have been unnerved by increased U.S. military and drone strikes, are expanding north in a campaign to upend the fragile government of President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The attack came as Yemeni officials told the Associated Press that militants on Sunday fired on a car carrying three U.S. Coast Guard instructors in the Red Sea port of Hodeida. One American was wounded. Washington has stepped up U.S. military involvement in this troubled Arab nation, including sending a contingent of at least 20 special operations soldiers that provides satellite images and intelligence for strikes against extremists.
The bombing in Sana was the bloodiest in the capital in months. Officials say the assailant was dressed in a military uniform and detonated a concealed bomb while soldiers were practicing for a National Day parade scheduled for Tuesday. Media reports said that as many as 300 people were wounded and that bodies were scattered across Al Sabin Square.
Yemeni Defense Minister Nasser Ahmed was reportedly in the square at the time but was not injured.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but it came days after Yemeni forces launched an offensive against militants linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Ansar al-Sharia in the south, including Abyan province. Authorities said 19 soldiers and 33 militants were killed in weekend clashes.
The militants had promised on their website to retaliate against Yemeni forces. They have called their strategy against government soldiers a "flowing river" that will sweep across the country.
Fleishman reported from Cairo and al-Alayaa from Sana.