A series of blasts at an ammunition factory has left at least 100 people dead and injured dozens more near the southern Yemeni town of Jaar, a day after the plant was looted by masked gunmen.
Funerals are expected to take place on Tuesday for the victims of Monday’s blasts which witnesses said were possibly triggered by a cigarette, causing a massive fire in the factory, located in the Khanfar area near Jaar city.
The plant produces ammunition and Kalashnikov rifles.
Local residents told Al Jazeera that more than 100 men, women and children were looting the left-overs in the factory when the first explosion occurred.
“This accident is a true catastrophe, the first of its kind in Abyan,” a doctor at the state-run hospital said.
“There are so many burned bodies. I can’t even describe the situation.”
Doctors said that the charred remains were difficult to count. They said some victims, including women and children, would be buried in a mass grave.
Scores were wounded, many suffering from burns, doctors said, and many bodies remained inside the factory, which also contained stores of gunpowder.
One resident said the blasts were heard as far as 15km from the factory in the southern province of Abyan.
Armed men took control over Jaar [Al Jazeera]
Clashes broke out in Jaar on Sunday between armed groups operating in the area, feeding Western and Saudi fears that chaos in Yemen would benefit al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based arm.
On Sunday, around 30 armed and hooded gunmen stormed three sites in and near Jaar, including the ammunition factory, and made off in four vehicles with cases of weapons, witnesses said.
The incident came as a security official said that suspected al-Qaeda fighters had seized control of Jaar, a known al-Qaeda stronghold where police presence has been weak for many months.
Salem Mansour, a local member of the Yemeni parliament, told Al Jazeera that the fire in the factory is still burning and that the armed men, who are now in control of the town, are “just local people”.
He said that the Yemeni government troops could have protected the ammunition factory “because there are military brigades and central security forces in Abyan”.
Mansour blamed the government for not guarding the factory “although it had the capabilities to do so”.