The governor of the Yemeni port city of Aden was killed in a car bomb explosion Sunday, officials said, an attack for which an Islamic State affiliate later claimed responsibility.
At least six bodyguards also were slain in the blast that ripped through a motorcade, taking the life of Maj. Gen. Jaafar Mohammad Saad, according to witness accounts and official reports.
Images shared on social media by Islamic State show a white van parked on the side of the road as a black-tinted white SUV said to be Saad’s passed. Two later pictures show a huge explosion. The group, in a statement, warned officials “to prepare for operations that will reap their rotten heads.”
The militants said that Saad and eight companions died in the blast. A local news outlet, Aden Al-Ghad, quoted an unnamed witness as saying the car with explosives had rammed into Saad’s motorcade.
The office of Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who appointed Saad as governor of Aden in October, issued a statement eulogizing the victim for “restoring the security, services and humanitarian situation in Aden.” The statement blamed what it described as the “criminal gangs of the Houthi and Saleh militias” for the attack.
Forces loyal to Hadi, backed by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition in cooperation with the U.S., have been fighting the Houthis, Shiite Muslim rebels who seized control of the Yemeni capital, Sana, and Aden last year, forcing Hadi and his allies to establish a government in exile.
The Houthis, who are said to be backed by Iran, are allied with forces loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in what has been seen as a temporary marriage of convenience.
Coalition forces drove the Houthis out of Aden in July, establishing a foothold in the city. Hadi, along with members of his Cabinet, returned to Aden in October to oversee the coalition campaign marching north on other provinces.
The coalition’s takeover, however, has given rise to a chaotic security vacuum that has energized groups such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and an emerging affiliate of Islamic State.
Local news outlets reported Saturday the assassination of a military intelligence official and a judge.
Abdul Malak Ejiri, a member of the political office of the Houthis, blamed Hadi and the coalition for Saad's killing.
“What is happening shows there is no control of Aden, contrary to what the government in Riyadh is constantly claiming,” he said in a phone interview from Sana, referring to the Saudi government.
Yemeni political analyst Hisham Al-Omeisy said the government had largely ignored the threat of groups such as Islamic State.
“There is no plan to deal with the security situation in Aden. This instability has led to the creation of small gangs who are able to roam free. There is no security, no peace, nothing. It’s a mess.”
Special correspondents Bulos and Al-Alayaa reported from Beirut and Sana, respectively.