A suicide bomber killed at least 26 people in central Yemen on Wednesday when he blew himself up at a cultural center where students were celebrating the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, a security official said.

At least 48 people were also wounded, including many women and children, the official said, according to the state news agency, Saba.

There were conflicting accounts about whether any local government officials were among the wounded. One report said the provincial governor was injured. The security official, however, told Saba that all local officials escaped unharmed except for the director of the culture department, who was seriously hurt.

The celebration, in the city of Ibb, was organized by the Houthis, the Shiiite Muslim group that controls most of Yemen.

No one claimed responsibility for attack, but similar bombings have been carried out by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which operates in Yemen and regards Shiites as heretics.

The Houthis have clashed with fighters from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and allied Sunni tribesmen since overrunning the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in September.

Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in a condolence message to the Ibb governor and families of the victims, condemned "the terrorist and criminal" attack and instructed the government to ensure that the wounded receive full medical attention, Saba said.

Residents reported that a second explosion occurred outside a hospital, but security sources later said that their forces had been firing in the air to disperse residents who had gathered in front of the facility.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.

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