SANAA, Yemen — In a strike that bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida, assailants in military uniforms staged a brazen daytime assault Thursday on Yemen's Defense Ministry, setting off a daylong battle that killed at least 52 people and left scores injured, with foreigners thought to be among the dead.
The attack, which terrorized residents of a crowded district in the capital's old city, began with a thunderous car bomb blast at the compound's gate, and then a push by fighters on foot and armed with assault weapons. Their target was a hospital within the ministry complex where some foreign aid workers were based. A Supreme Court judge and his wife were reported to have been killed.
Officials said the attackers wore military garb, apparently stolen, which fueled confusion among those trying to defend the ministry, the headquarters of Yemen's military.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but officials said the complex nature of the assault prompted them to suspect the group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, one of al-Qaida's most dangerous offshoots. Its leaders and fighters have been the frequent targets of U.S. drone attacks.
Yemen is strategically located on vital shipping routes, which makes its growing instability a serious concern to the United States and its allies.
Military officials said they thought that most or all of the assailants were dead but that others could be holed up in the ministry or nearby buildings. Officials said 52 people had been killed and 167 injured. They said there were 16 attackers; it was not clear if they were among those listed as dead and wounded.