Islamic State group makes bloody entrance into Yemen

Islamic State group makes bloody entrance into Yemen
The bombing of mosques in Yemen has sparked fears that the militant group could spark a sectarian-based civil war in a country where religious differences have been largely absent.
3 min read
21 March, 2015
Two mosques associated with the Houthis were the target of suicide bombers [AFP]
The Islamic State group announced its entrance to Yemen's bitterly violent power struggles with Friday's massacre in Sanaa.

At least 137 people were killed and 351 injured in the blasts that targeted packed mosques linked to the Houthi rebel group during Friday prayers.

Maximum carnage

Oman's news agency reported that 40 of the injured, including children, have arrived in the neighbouring sultanate for treatment.

The massacre has raised concerns that an "Iraq scenario" might develop in Yemen, with analysts warning of the potential for full-scale sectarian civil war.

The Houthis are a Shia-Zaydi rebel group, which took over state institutions in Sanaa in January. They are opposed by myriad secular political and tribal groups.

However, they also face opposition from militant outfits such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and now IS, which views Shia as "heretics".

Before Friday's carnage, IS was not known to have any presence in Yemen. 

Sectarian attack

What has shocked and concerned many Yemenis is that a political crisis in the country could now be given sectarian dimensions.

In Yemen, no mosques are exclusive to Sunni or Zaydi worshippers, which meant that the victims of yesterday's attack were from a variety of sects.

Many Yemenis simply attend the mosque closest to their homes.

The first suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest at the entrance of the Badr mosque, while the second blew himself up in the packed courtyard of the Hashoush mosque.  

IS was quick to claim responsibility for the massacre, in a statement signed off by the "Islamic State in Yemen".

They appear to have chosen the mosques as soft targets that would inflict maximum carnage on innocents.
     IS appear to have chosen the mosques as soft targets that would inflict maximum carnage on innocents.

A third mosque in the Houthi stronghold of Saada province was also the target of a suicide bombing attempt.

The bomber was prevented from reaching the local mosque, and instead detonated his explsoves outside a police station. No casualties were reported in that blast.

'Iraq scenario'

Imam al-Murtada bin Zaid al-Mahtouri, one of the country's leading Houthi-allied clerics, was said to have been killed in the Badr mosque bombing.

Analysts warn that IS might be looking to recreate scenes from Iraq, where, for more than a decade, sectarian killings have been the norm.

While Yemen is noted for a general absence of sectarian polarisation, there are clear signs of militancy emerging from the political crisis.

Houthi activist Abdul-Kareem al-Khaiwani was assassinated by al-Qaeda gunmen in Sanaa, and this is being viewed as a failure of the rebel group to establish security in the capital.

A Houthi statement said that this was a "clear war on the Yemeni people and their popular revolt", while a spokesperson for the group blamed the attack on al-Qaeda with collusion from US-backed security agencies.

The Houthis have accused Yemen's internationally recognised president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, of releasing al-Qaeda prisoners from an Aden prison.

The UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, has also been criticised by the Houthis, claiming his dialogue efforts would provide cover for extremists, and allow them more time to "target the people and the revolution".

In the statement, the Houthis vowed to defend themselves and preserve the "revolution".

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.