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News Wrap: Suicide Bomb Kills Dozens in Yemen’s Capital

May 21, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: A powerful suicide bomb exploded in the capital of Yemen today, killing 96 soldiers and wounding more than 200. It came amid a brewing U.S.-Yemeni war on al-Qaida’s chapter in the country.

Sirens blared in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa as emergency vehicles sped to the scene of the thunderous blast. Hundreds of soldiers had gathered near the presidential palace for a military parade rehearsal when a person in uniform detonated a belt of explosives.

LT. ABDEL HAMID BAGHASH, Yemeni security official: (through translator): This is the work of al-Qaida. It is clear that this is their work. They did this.

KWAME HOLMAN: And within hours, al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula made that claim. It said the targets included Yemen’s defense minister, who was present, but unhurt. The militants said the bombing was retaliation for a recent army offensive to recapture key towns in the South.

Al-Qaida fighters gained ground there during last year’s uprising that ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In a warning today, the al-Qaida group promised more attacks unless the army pulls back. It said, “What happened today is but the start of a jihad project in defense of honor and sanctities.”

Even before the Yemeni army’s offensive, the U.S. stepped up a drone aircraft campaign against AQAP. Its leader, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed in a missile strike last fall. And earlier this month, another strike killed Fahd al-Quso, believed responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

Two weeks ago, FBI Director Robert Mueller warned the group is committed to high-profile attacks against the U.S.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI director: Meanwhile, al-Qaida affiliates, especially al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, represent the top counterterrorism threat to the nation. AQAP has attempted several attacks on the United States, Including the failed Christmas Day airliner bombing in 2009 and the attempted bombing of U.S.-bound cargo planes in 2010.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mueller spoke after U.S. officials said a Saudi double agent had disrupted a plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner.

All this comes just three months after Yemen’s new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, took office. He promised the families affected by today’s attack the country’s armed forces would become tougher and more determined in pursuing terrorists.

The ongoing violence in Syria has spilled over to neighboring Lebanon again. Supporters and opponents of the Syrian government fought overnight, after a leading Sunni Muslim cleric was killed. This morning, charred cars and motorcycles littered the streets of Beirut. At least two people were killed in the fighting.

China’s state-controlled media today played down the departure of Chen Guangcheng, saying most Chinese are not interested. The blind dissident arrived in New York City on Saturday, ending more than a month of diplomatic tension. His wife and two children came with him. Other relatives stayed behind. Chen escaped from house arrest in his Chinese village last month, and briefly took refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

The lone figure to go to prison for blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, was buried today in his native Libya. The attack killed 270 people in 1988. Abdel Basset al-Megrahi died Sunday, nearly three years after being released from custody in Britain.

We have a report narrated by Bill Neely of Independent Television News.

BILL NEELY: A simple wooden coffin for the man convicted of one of the most sophisticated and deadly bombings in history, no hero’s burial for Abdel Basset al-Megrahi. Libyans would rather forget him. He was Gadhafi’s man, so no state funeral, less than 100 mourners here to lay to rest the only man ever convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

Megrahi’s secrets went with him to the grave. The full truth about Lockerbie is buried too. Megrahi, who died of cancer, had always protested his innocence. His brother had a new message for the bereaved of the Lockerbie bomb.

MOHAMMED AL-MEGRAHI, brother of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi: Only one thing I have to tell them, that (INAUDIBLE) told me that he was the passenger 271.

BILL NEELY: He was passenger 271. He too was a victim. No one believes he acted alone to do this. Scottish prosecutors are confident a new Libyan government might help secure more convictions.

FRANK MULHOLLAND, lord advocate of Scotland: I think that they are determined to do what they can to bring the others to justice that were involved in this appalling crime.

BILL NEELY: For many, this man holds the key, Abdullah Senussi, Libya’s former intelligence chief, now under arrest.

BERT AMMERMAN, brother of Lockerbie Victim: He knows the truth. He knows who was involved. He also knows what countries were involved. It is imperative that the United Kingdom and the United States do aggressive interrogation of Senussi to get the truth.

BILL NEELY: It was the worst crime on British soil, mass murder. Yet still the unanswered questions persist. Megrahi is dead. The mystery of Lockerbie is not.

KWAME HOLMAN: Al-Megrahi was 60 years old.

A Florida man’s twins won’t get his Social Security benefits because they were conceived artificially after he died. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision today. It cited Florida’s inheritance law, which bars benefits in such cases. The court also agreed to hear a closely watched case involving surveillance of overseas communications.

For analysis of the court’s actions from Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal, visit our Politics page.

Wall Street ended a series of losing sessions on new signals that China will try to boost its economy. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 135 points to close at 12,504. The Nasdaq rose 68 points to close at 2,847.

The gains didn’t extend to Facebook. The social media giant lost 11 percent in its second day of being a publicly traded company.

The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced his resignation today, after a rocky three-year tenure. Gregory Jaczko was credited with advancing safety for the nation’s nuclear reactors. But his fellow commissioners accused him of acting like a bully and creating a difficult work environment. Jaczko denied the accusations.

A federal health advisory panel is sticking with its advice that healthy men shouldn’t get routine screenings for prostate cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found again that PSA blood tests often lead to unnecessary treatment of relatively harmless tumors. The group initially proposed that medical guidance last fall, but it drew widespread protests in the medical community.

Robin Gibb, one of the brothers who made up the Bee Gees and defined the disco era, has passed away. He died Sunday in London after a long fight with cancer. Gibb and his brothers, Maurice and Barry, began performing in the 1960s. But their greatest fame began in 1977 with the soundtrack for “Saturday Night Fever” starring John Travolta. The album served as a turning point in popular music, ushering in the dance music era. Robin Gibb was 62 years old and was the second Bee Gee to die. Maurice Gibb died of intestinal problems in 2003.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.