Yemen Division of Islamic State Claims Suicide Bomb Attacks That Killed Scores

Hakim Almasmari and Asa Fitch, Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2015

A Yemeni division of Islamic State claimed responsibility for suicide bombings Friday that hit two mosques in Yemen’s capital that killed more than 100 people and raised the spectre of a potent new force in a conflict that has grown increasingly deadly in the past 48 hours.

The bombings targeted the Al Badr and Al Hashoosh mosques in San’a as worshipers gathered for midday prayers. At least 135 people, including Murtatha Al Mahathwari, a top Houthi religious leader, were killed in the blasts, according to the Yemeni Interior Ministry. The death toll was expected to rise, security officials added, but was already the highest ever in Yemen for a single terrorist operation.

Another bombing on Friday rocked a government compound in Saada province, a Houthi stronghold where the group’s leader, Abdul Malik Al Houthi, is based. Two people were killed and a third person was in critical condition, two local officials said.

The Yemeni Islamic State group San’a Province said in a message distributed on Twitter that four of its suicide bombers carried out the operations, according to a translation by the extremist-tracking SITE Intelligence Group. The claims couldn’t be independently verified.

The message decried the Houthis as “polytheists” and said the operations were “but the tip of the iceberg that is coming.”

If the claim of responsibility is accurate, the attacks would be the first known in Yemen by an Islamic State affiliate. {snip}

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Friday’s attacks in Yemen were the first major strikes targeting Houthi-controlled mosques, and could further heighten sectarian tensions between the Shiite Muslim Houthis and their Sunni Muslim opponents.

They were also the deadliest terrorist attacks ever in Yemen. The next-highest death toll in a single terrorist operation was in 2012, when 101 people died in a suicide bombing targeting a military parade in San’a. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, Yemen’s potent al Qaeda offshoot, claimed responsibility for that attack.

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Yemen has been in a state of turmoil since September, when Houthi militants overran San’a and demanded a greater say in state affairs. They are based in northern Yemen but have used their forces to extend their control in the south over the past months. The Houthis, which are estimated to make up around 30% of Yemen’s population, are part of the Zaidi offshoot of Shiite Islam.

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