News / Middle East

Car Blast Kills 17 Shi'ites in Northern Yemen

A suicide carbomber blew himself up alongside a religious procession in northern Yemen. At least 17 were killed and 15 wounded in the blast which observers say could unravel a fragile truce between rebels and the Yemeni government signed in February.

The bomber struck worshippers on one of the most sacred holidays of the year to Yemeni Shi'ites. The blast wreaked havoc during the celebration of al Ghadeer, wounding several in an already volatile northern Yemen.

A spokesman for the area's Huthi rebels said his group was targeted in the attack, in al-Jawf province.

The attack on the Shi'ite Houthi procession in the Jawf province could undermine the fragile ten-month old truce between the government and rebels loyal to Abdel Malek al Houthi. Several top Houthi leaders were reportedly killed in the blast.

Yemen's weak central government faces rebels in the north and south as well as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Tensions have been rising in northern Yemen in recent days, with reports of scattered clashes, as well as bloodshed.

Jamal al Najjar of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees says that a number of people have been killed and still others have fled since fighting began on November 13th.

"On the 13th of November, clashes erupted between pro-government tribes and Houthi followers in Kadebar and Munabah districts [along] the border with Saudi Arabia. Fighting stopped during the Eid [al Adha] holiday after tribal mediation, but then it resumed on the 20th of November. More than 20 people were killed and a number of people were displaced to Saudi Arabia."

Greg Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton University, says that it is too early to tell if al Qaida is actually responsible for Wednesday's attack, but that sectarian strife appears to be growing intense in northern Yemen:

"There have been previous bombs that have [gone] off up in the north in Saada and al Jawf in the region where the Houthis are most active, in previous years, that looked very much like al Qaida and in the end turned out not to be an al Qaida attack. That being said, there has been a great deal of back-and-forth between the Houthis and al Qaida, almost shades of what we saw coming out of Iraq in some of the Shia-Sunni clashes at the height of the war. So, I think if this does turn out to be al Qaida and if the Houthis retaliate, then it could be a very, very dangerous situation."

Johnsen also argues that a fresh conflict could erupt in the long series of wars between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels, which have been going on since 2004:

"Any clashes like this, if it does turn out that al Qaida was behind it, [suggests] that the government would be drawn in, just given all the different linkages. There are so many different individuals, whether it be through tribal connections, whose relatives are employed by the state, or military officials that got killed who also happen to be part of a particular tribe. I just don't see this as a two-sided clash between al Qaida and the Houthis….I think the government would be involved, probably against its better wishes."

A cease-fire was reached last February between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels after intense mediation by the Emir of Qatar. Six wars between the government and the rebels have ended in a stalemate, causing the displacement of close to 300,000 people.

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