Revealing the facts behind Bab Al-Yemen’s explosion [Archives:1999/32/Health]

August 9 1999

The Horrifying Incident 
The explosion appears to have been organized by a terrorist group not officially identified yet. The incident took place in a narrow lane on the way to the constantly crowded traditional inner markets. The explosive, a hand grenade, was thrown into the crowd by a man, believed to be Ali Abdullah Hussein Al-Hejri, from Al-Hejra near Ishbil village in the province of Dhamar. In a press conference held by the Interior Minister, the minister, Hussein Mohammed Arab stated that the incident was triggered by an argument over a watch and had no political motives. “Based on investigations, the crime was the result of an argument between the man who hurled the grenade and four men selling watches,” the minister said. 

Regarding this issue, the Yemen Times went to Bab Al-Yemen and filed some interviews with the shop owners who were closest to the place where the incident took place. Mohamed Qaid Allaw is a small market owner who witnessed the accident and explained the situation with his own words, “Ten minutes after the explosion of the bomb, I heard gun fire and we thought that the police were shooting in the air. Afterwards, we realized that the shots had hit people and killed a number of them. Then my brother went out to see who is shooting, but unfortunately he was killed immediately by the criminal, who caught him with a shot, which penetrated his body from his stomach till the bullet went out from his back. My young son tried to run away after he was frightened of the scenery of blood, but the killer shot him and hurt his hand before he escaped. I then tried to hospitalize both my brother and son as soon as possible. I could not go through the shock until this moment. This is a brutal crime that we should never forgive.”

Another close witness was a small used watch market owner, Mahfoudh Alawi. In his words he said, “While we were trying to help the victims of the explosion, we heard gun shots everywhere. My partner in the market, Mohammed Abdullah took the tea thermos bottles with him and told me to close the store. However, just as were about to close the store, he was shot in the head and died immediately. His blood was all over the place. In a hysterical movement, I shouted “help, help.” Our neighbor came running and while asking what had happened, he too was mercilessly shot in the head and fell dead. I then ran for my life. Later the police forces arrived, and there was almost a live battle which we could feel between the terrorist and the police. Later, after the police located him, they threw towards him a tear gas bomb and were able to capture him.”

Then we met with Abdo Ali who was working on fixing some watches by the time. He explained, “I was sitting fixing some watches while I suddenly felt a bullet scratching my head and passing to get the soul of my friend, Murad Abdo who was next to me. I touched my head and felt the blood. I tried to prevent my wound from bleeding further. I ran to Al-Thowra hospital where I found dozens of injured people. I had my wound sutured, and came back in an effort to help the others. This is an evil and brutal crime that targets all Yemenis alike. We will never forgive this act of terror.”

The terrorist’s crime was a is truly an act of terror that cannot be justified in any means or terms. The explosion, caused people in the area to panic. In the time of the explosion, shouting and screaming filled the area with fear and anger. After committing his crime, the man attempted to escape by breaking into one of the homes in the area. He went up the roof and shot at as many people as he could. Sources say that in his gun firing, he killed three and then tried to escape. According to official sources, he was captured and put in jail. 

In the hospital 
After this brutal accident took place, and in order to get the facts, Yemen Times hurried to get the remarks of the people who were closest to the incident. These are the people who were injured during the blastoff. We went to Al-Thowra Hospital and spoke with the victims of the accident who were barely able to talk. We did not want to disturb them, so we made short interviews in which many facts were displayed. 
In the emergency department of the hospital were the victims, who suffered from various wounds and health problems due to the blast. At the beginning we talked with the person responsible of monitoring and directing the medical care service and attention given to the victims, Dr. Saleh Muthanna who gave us a brief statement about how the hospital received the wounded and how things are going so far. 
“Because we are the hospital closest to the place of the blastoff, we received almost all of the cases that resulted from the blastoff just after it happened. All doctors were called from their homes to deal with this urgent situation. We were able to handle all the cases, which we received. The ones which were not so dangerous, were dealt with quickly and sent to other hospitals such as Kuwait, and Jumhuri. Unfortunately, two of the injured arrived to the hospital as dead bodies, and two more died after some time of their arrival. Currently, we have around 11 victims of which 3 cases are quite serious and are currently in the extensive care section of the emergency department. The rest are in better shape, but still suffer from the shock and effects of their wounds.”
Regarding the condition of the hospital in dealing with the cases he said, “Our hospital is well equipped with modern tools, which had helped us in dealing with all cases appropriately. We realized that the ones who died most probably had died because of gun shots and not because of the explosion. You know that the criminal had fired on some people after the explosion, these were the true victims who died during this event.”
Then we went along with Dr. Saleh to the rooms where the patients were, and we visited a number of them. The first was Mr. Mohamed Ali Nijad, who explained how the incident happened,” As usual, and as many Yemenis do, I went to Bab Al-Yemen to do some shopping for the family and myself. I walked through the main gateway and into the first lane leading to Bab Al-Salam in search for some goods to buy. The place was very crowded at the time. As soon as the call for Ish’a Prayer from the near by Al-Jam’I Al-Kabeer Mosque, I heard a huge blast and saw the light of the explosion from the ground. I was wounded and my brother who was standing next to me fell on the ground just like tens of others whom I thought had died. I was not severely wounded as the others, so I picked my brother and took him to the car, which was near by. I then ran to help the others who were severely wounded in an effort to save their lives and take them to Al-Thowra hospital. When we arrived to the hospital, I realized that one of the victims had already died on our way. Frankly speaking, the hospital’s staff was quite sympathetic and warmhearted. They were working very hard to save as many lives as possible. The moments of the explosion were so terrifying that I was not able to notice if a person had thrown a grenade or any other kind of bomb. I only heard that the criminal tried to escape after the explosion and he though that there were some people after him. So he shot on them from one of the houses in the area. I was very pleased with the response of the people after the incident. Everyone volunteered to help the injured. Even simple hand-pushed cart owners left their goods and ran for the rescue of their brothers. They even threw the goods, which were on their carts, and used it to carry the wounded to the hospital without thinking of what might happen to their goods. 
About the crime, he said, “This horrifying act is no less than an inhuman crime that targeted the innocent people. This crime can only be done by a person full of hatred and wants to destroy peace and stability in the area and in the whole country.” On the consequences of the incident, he explains, “I think that if tourists or foreigners hear of this event, they will never go into Bab Al-Yemen again, despite being one of the most important tourist sites in Yemen. Even Yemenis will be hesitant of going into that gate again, or at least going through crowded areas in that place.”
On what the government should do in this regard he insists that “The government should prevent the carrying of weapons in the major cities of the country. It should carry out strict punishments was made on the ones who do not abide by the law in this regard. I am a police officer, and I frankly say that the rules of prohibiting the carrying of weapons are not strict whatsoever. I say this because I witnessed many cases where ignorance and carelessness among the higher-ranking police officers lead to the ineffectiveness in the implementation of the law. I witness tribesmen, sheiks, and other people moving around with their weapons into the most crowded areas of Bab Al-Yemen. I even witness cars with twenty or so armed men. Unfortunately, any dispute or issue is dealt with using weapons, which leads to such incidents. We have illegal weapon markets all over Sanaa governorate. I request from the government to collect these weapons one by one and put them under state control in order to have stability and peace in this country.”
On his behalf, he claims, “I am a simple police officer, who can not do a lot. The main people responsible of securing our country are the high-ranking officials who can directly impose rules and have them implemented for the benefit of all citizens. If the one in top does his job right, the rest -including me- will definitely follow.”
Then we went on to the next patient, Mohamed Abdullah Abdo, from Lahj, who was one of the wounded as a result of direct contact with the explosion. He was directly affected by the grenade’s fragments in his knee and shoulder. Mr. Mohamed told his story, “While we were on our way to the markets of Bab Al-Yemen, we entered into the narrow lane, which leads to the internal traditional shops of the old city of Old Sanaa, where the horrifying incident took place. I only found myself lying on the ground with blood all over my body. I realized that the explosion was in the ground and not in the air or somewhere else. I think that the range of the explosive material was of 15 meters. I have lost my friend who was with me by the time, I am still looking for him until now.” 
On the steps that the government should undertake after the incident he said, ” I think that the people in the market should be inspected. Weapons should be prohibited inside the market place where there are crowds of people all the time. What is the crime of the innocent people, children, and tourists who come into the market in peace? There should be security forces in the Capital city to look for weapons and try to prevent them from entering such areas. The extent of ignorance and lawlessness reached the level where there are carts inside Bab Al-Yemen selling all sorts of weapons and machinery. This needs to stop.”
Then we were faced with another victim, Ibrahim Ali Nijad, who was suffering from damage in the face near the eye. He was barely able to talk, so we only had a brief talk with him about this terrifying experience. He started, “we went into the shop among the crowd of around 50 people. Suddenly we heard a strong explosion, and we among others were hurt by the splinter of the explosion.” 
On his impressions of how this will affect the activities in Bab Al-Yemen he said, “I am now hesitant of going back to Bab Al-Yemen because it will remind me of the incident. It shows how a small grenade can result in the deaths of several visitors. However, all I can say about the incident is that it is signals a horrifying issue. Such terror incidents are partially a result of lawlessness and the unavailability of security forces which monitor the area and prevent weapons from flowing such crowded places.”
Afterwards, we went to see another patient, Hamood Qassim Al-Huty. Interestingly enough, Mr. Hamood was not injured because of the blast of the grenade, but instead the gunman who is expected to be the same person who threw the grenade shot his arm. Starting from the beginning, he explained how it all happened, “I was sitting and chewing qat along with some guests in my friend’s living room in the fifth floor of the building when I heard a blast of what I think is an 800 gm hand grenade. It was a huge explosion that shook the whole building. After the incident, the criminal who committed it tried to escape and broke into one of the houses and went to the ceiling where he shot dead a number of people using his weapon. 
While I was attempting to prepare myself and try to help in capturing the gunman, my right arm was shot. I felt the shock in my whole body. Realizing that the bullet had penetrated my arm bone, I was about to faint when I found my friends pulling me out of the room towards the car to get me hospitalized. I then arrived to the hospital where I found out that I could not feel my arm, and I think it is now paralyzed.”After asking how the fire came into the room, he answered “I think that it was more than one person who shot fire at us. The number and directions of the shots and the marks on the walls of the building suggest that this incident was carried out with a group of armed men and not one person.” 
He also added, “There is no law implemented in this area. Bab Al-Yemen is one of the areas where you find problems, thefts, and various incidents all the time. There have been many promises of giving more attention to Bab Al-Yemen and sorting its problems out, but all are still promises. Bab Al-Yemen faces many problems in all aspects. Cars cannot come into the place, the crowd always makes things difficult. For example, if services and other important functions in the place were available, the latest incident would not have gained so many lives. I hope that the government would now wake up and bring more attention to this area.”