Families and teachers concerned post-attack [Archives:2008/1139/Front Page]

March 20 2008

By: Yemen Times Staff
Although it's more likely that the mortar attack's main target was the U.S. Embassy, students at the adjacent girls' school are the ones paying the price.

SANA'A, March 19 ) Students at the July 7 High School for girls remain shocked after their school was bombarded by three mortar rounds that exploded in the perimeter between the school and the U.S. embassy compound in Sana'a on Tuesday afternoon.

One Yemeni security guard stationed at the site died and five additional security personnel were injured. Also injured were 13 girls, three of whom are in critical condition and were flown to Jordan for urgent medical care.

Only a few girls dared attend school on Wednesday, while others remained at home to recover from the shock. Both the schoolyard and the neighborhood were packed with security still investigating the incident and attempting to restore stability.

The school's vice principal, Fawzia Abdu, reported that the mortars were followed by gunshots fired into the air, most likely a reaction by security stationed at the scene in response to the attack.

Yusra Al-Aghbari, who lives in the area and teaches at the school, didn't report for work because she was unsure if it was safe.

“We're tired of living in fear. Although it was ok because security personnel were looking after us, now with an attack of this size, I don't think we feel safe anymore,” she added, commenting on the likelihood that parents will fear for their daughters' lives and withdraw them from school.

Some students' families admit that, for security reasons, they would like to transfer their daughters to schools farther from the U.S. Embassy; however, the concerned education office says it won't allow such transfers unless given clear instructions from higher up in the Ministry of Education. If such permission is not granted, it's very likely that some of the girls will drop out of school during this academic year.

Preliminary official reports by Yemeni authorities state that this was an attack on the school's principal for personal reasons, basing their conclusion on a previous beating principal Shafia Ali Al-Siraji experienced last week.

According to a local security official in the district, “The school principal was subjected to a brutal attack by a gang on Sunday, March 9, due to personal grudges while she was leaving her home for the school. We caught two of the culprits and still are searching for the others.”

Al-Siraji heads the women's department in the ruling General People's Congress party in constituency No. 18 and is a member of the local council. According to neighborhood locals, she's known for her good relations with teachers, students and their families.

The Yemen Times has learned from a source preferring to remain anonymous that contradictory to official Yemeni statements, the U.S. Embassy was the main target of the attack. Following the incident, the embassy closed to the public without specifying when it will resume normal operations.

As described by Al-Aghbari, the first mortar hit outside the school, the second hit the school's roof and the third hit the yard closer to the U.S. Embassy. “If the classrooms had been targeted, dozens of girls would've died,” she observed.

Both Yemeni authorities and citizens strongly condemned the attack. President Ali Abdullah Saleh visited the hospitals where the injured were admitted and instructed that the Yemeni government will pay for their treatment. He further announced a monetary reward for any information on the perpetrators.

Qasim Al-Marhabi, father of two girls studying at the school, said he already lost one daughter 13 years ago when a truck loaded with rocks skid off the road and crashed into the school.

Another parent, Mohammed Muqbil, called on Yemen's Education Ministry to transfer the school to somewhere safer.

While a third parent, Ahmed Awadh, said he wasn't alarmed and sent his daughter to school the day after the attack, he did go there to check that everything was fine during that day.