SANAA, Yemen – Sixty-two officers and soldiers loyal to ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh's son were charged with resisting authorities and mutiny after trying to storm the Ministry of Defense, a senior Yemeni security official said Thursday.
High Security Committee spokesman Gen. Ali al-Ubaidi said that the 62 will be referred to a military tribunal for joining a force of 200 in the sudden attack on the Ministry two days earlier, where they fired automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at Ministry guards. The ensuing firefight left one attacker, two ministry guards and two civilians dead.
The committee, headed by Yemen's President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, was founded as part of a power transfer deal after last year's popular uprising that ended the longtime authoritarian rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh. The committee is in charge of the country's top security and military issues.
The soldiers charged belong to the elite Republican Guard units led by Ahmed Saleh, the former president's son, who were protesting a presidential decree that put some of the force's units under presidential oversight. The decree was part of Hadi's moves to restructure the army and purge it of former regime loyalists. He was also trying to create his own force to help in law enforcement and implement moves to remove former regime members.
Since he stepped down in February and handed power to Hadi, Saleh has been accused of meddling in the country's affairs and retaining power behind the scene by moving his loyalists around to disrupt life in Yemen.
It was the second time the ministry has come under threat in a week and the second attack on state institutions in one month. Earlier, policemen in uniform, also loyalists to Saleh, stormed the Interior Ministry, looting its offices and setting off clashes that left 15 dead. A number of policemen were arrested and are also facing trial, according to al-Ubaidi. The policemen belong to the Central Security Forces, of which Saleh's nephew, Yahia Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, is the second in command.
The Republican Guard command center issued a statement denying responsibility for the attack and said that the mutiny was carried out by forces that no longer fall under their command.
The attack on the Defense Ministry left Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, on a state of security alert.
Officials who spoke to the Associated Press voiced fears of possible attacks on state institutions during the four-day Eid al-Fitr holiday starting Friday, which comes at the end of Muslims' holy month of Ramadan.
They said that authorities have beefed up security around the Presidential palace, the Foreign Ministry and several other state institutions. Meanwhile, part of Sanaa's al-Zubair main street, where the Defense Ministry is located, has been blocked off to traffic while tanks and armored vehicles are stationed nearby.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of they are not allowed to speak to the press, accused Saleh and his family of trying to "humiliate" the new regime in Yemen by showing that the new president is unable to protect it.
Several other incidents of what officials describe as "defiance to the central government" can be easily spotted around the capital.
The Defense Ministry, for example, said in a statement Thursday that armed men looted four trucks carrying food supplies to its forces. Officials suspect that Saleh's men paid them to attack the trucks on their way to the capital. Meanwhile, security authorities complained in another statement that armed men blocked a highway in the early hours of Thursday to create a traffic jam.
Hadi, who is now attending an Islamic summit in Saudi Arabia, has won the support of the United States and western allies along with neighboring Gulf countries. Since taking office, he has launched drastic shake-ups to unify the military while leading offensives in the south against al-Qaida militants which took control of several cities, towns and large swaths of lands during last year's uprising and accompanying security vacuum there.
In June, with U.S. help, the Yemeni military managed to drive al-Qaida militants from many of their strongholds, especially the main cities and towns. However, there is fear they may make a comeback given a persistent absence of state control in these areas.