28 dead in attack on Shias in Yemen claimed by IS

Sources say car bomb targeted Huthi rebel chief brothers during a gathering to mourn death of a family member

Afp June 30, 2015
Police officers inspect the site of the car bomb attack in Yemen’s capital Sanaa. PHOTO: REUTERS

SANAA: An attack on Huthi rebel leaders in the Yemeni capital claimed by the Islamic State group killed at least 28 people, medics said, the latest deadly assault on Shias by the Sunni extremists.

Yemen was previously the preserve of IS's terrorist rival al Qaeda, which controls swathes of the south and east, but since March the group has claimed a string of high-profile attacks.

The car bomb targeted Huthi rebel chief brothers Faycal and Hamid Jayache during a gathering to mourn the death of a family member, a security source said. Eight women were among the dead.

Huthi rebels closed down the surrounding area in the centre of Sanaa after the attack, only allowing through emergency services to help evacuate the victims, witnesses said. The explosion blew a crater in the road, took chunks out of nearby walls and left debris strewn across the street.

In a statement posted online, IS said it had organised the attack on what it called a "Shias nest". The militant group considers Shias heretics and has repeatedly targeted them not only in Yemen but in countries across the region.

Just Friday, a Saudi IS suicide bomber killed 26 people and wounded 227 in a Shia mosque in Kuwait.

In Yemen, IS claimed a car bombing that killed two people outside a Shia mosque in Sanaa on June 20 and a series of attacks in the capital four days earlier that killed 31.

The militant group, which marked the first anniversary of the declaration of its "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria on Monday, began its Yemen campaign in March with a series of bombings of Shia mosques that killed 142 people.

The deadly attacks have overshadowed the operations of IS's rival in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

AQAP has taken advantage of the Huthi rebellion to consolidate its grip of the southeastern province of Hadramawt, overrunning its capital Mukalla in March.

And it is still regarded as the network's most dangerous branch by Washington, which has kept up a drone war against in Mukalla. But analysts said that IS was now clearly in the ascendant.

IS is "in the process of supplanting AQAP, which is becoming just one of a number of forces in the Sunni tribal camp in southern Yemen," said Mathieu Guidere, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Toulouse in France.

The Iran-backed Huthi rebels have seized vast swathes of the country since launching an offensive in July 2014, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia.

Neither peace talks in Geneva nor a Saudi-led air campaign begun in March have driven them from power and they remain locked in battle with pro-government fighters, Sunni tribesmen and southern separatists, as well as the rival militants.

Yemen's official Saba news agency, which is controlled by the Huthis, reported early Tuesday that the rebels had launched a Scud missile at the Al-Salil military base, near the Saudi capital Riyadh.

"The missile is in response to the aggression of Saudi Arabia, which is increasing its criminal air raids against our country," Saba reported, citing a military spokesman. "This is another message to the forces of oppression," he added, promising "new surprises in the coming days."

Saudi Arabia did not immediately confirm or deny the missile attack.

A suicide bomber attacked a rebel position in the central province of Baida overnight, security sources said. There was no immediate word on casualties or claim of responsibility.

Further south, in Dhaleh province, forces opposed to the Huthis said on Tuesday that they had killed 167 rebels and captured 30 in three days of heavy fighting. Dhaleh lies close to the battleground southern port of Aden, Yemen's second city.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an investigation Monday after Saudi-led air strikes hit the UN Development Programme compound in the city, wounding a guard and causing serious damage.

In a statement on Tuesday, Yemen's journalists' union accused the Huthis of systematic ill-treatment of its members and demanded the release of 12 they had detained.