SANAA, Yemen – A suicide bomber blew up an explosives-filled vehicle at a pro-government Yemeni militia headquarters on Monday, killing 12 people and wounding 17, a security official and witnesses said.
The explosion, which rocked the city of Lawder in the southern Abyan province, came as a top intelligence official disclosed that the nation's president rejected a truce with al Qaeda.
He said the Yemeni government also turned down proposals from clerics and tribal leaders to grant amnesty to al Qaeda detainees in Yemeni prisons if the militant group renounces violence and hands over weapons.
A Yemeni official said that the bombing targeted the Popular Committees, made up of civilians who back the government in its fight against al Qaeda. The official said that it was typical of al Qaeda's tactics.
Bodies of the 12 dead were torn to pieces, and 17 were wounded. Ambulances rushed to the scene, and security forces cordoned off the area, fearing a second attack.
The intelligence official said mediation efforts were in progress for weeks. President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi rejected al Qaeda demands to release those involved in the killing and wounding of hundreds of troops and civilians.
"The president said that the state can forgive those whose hands are not stained in blood, but will never forgive killers," the official said. He added that the mediators carried the message to al Qaeda figures, including the leader of the group, Nasser el-Wahashi.
On Monday, al Qaeda posted a statement on Islamic militant websites holding the government responsible for failure of the talks, charging that the government took "a shameful position," submitting to the U.S. and "its agents in the Gulf countries." It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the statement.
The truce proposal was also seen as an attempt by al Qaeda to play for time and re-organize its ranks after taking heavy blows from Yemen's military, backed by the United States. Last summer the military launched a wide offensive targeting al Qaeda strongholds in the south, and U.S drone attacks killed dozens of al Qaeda militants.
Yemen went through political and security upheavals during a 2011 uprising, when millions of Yemenis took to the streets demanding the ouster of longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh. Al Qaeda took advantage of the security vacuum and overran parts of southern Yemen before they were driven out over the past year.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group's branch in Yemen, is considered the terror network's most dangerous, blamed for several unsuccessful attacks in the U.S. in recent years.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
Also Monday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Yemen and government to stop seeking and carrying out death sentences against juvenile offenders.
The group issued a report noting that 22 individuals were convicted and sentenced to death for crimes committed while they were under 18 years old. The group said that over the past five years, 15 young men and a woman were executed. Most recently, a woman named Hind al-Barti was executed in December for a crime committed when she was 15.
Children interviewed by HRW said that they were tortured to give confessions.
"President Hadi should break with Yemen's past of arbitrary justice and state-sanctioned violence," HRW researcher Priyanka Motaparth said in the report.
An official at Hadi's office said that under pressure from rights groups, the president has urged judicial authorities to review the sentences.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Yemen's legal code bans execution of juveniles, but often defendants are unable to prove their age due to lack of documents or judges refusing to accept them.
The group said that over the past five years, Yemen is among only four countries in the world known to execute people for crimes committed while they were children.