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YEMEN: Car bomb targeting Shiite tribesmen kills 17 [Updated]

November 24, 2010 |  8:27 am

Suicide bombing [Updated at 9:52 a.m.: Death toll revised and reference to Yemen media report report of alleged Al Qaeda responsibility added.]

A car bomb exploded along a procession of Shiite Muslims in northern Yemen, killing at least 17 people and raising concerns that Al Qaeda was seeking to exploit religious differences in a country engulfed in rebellion.

The blast occurred in a rugged province where the government and Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, are under a tense ceasefire in fighting that has killed hundreds and displaced thousands. No one claimed immediate responsibility but a tribal leader told Yemen media that Al Qaeda carried out the attack as retaliation against the Houthis for detaining five Al Qaeda operatives earlier this year.

The explosion -– believed to have been detonated by a suicide bomber in a car -– targeted Shiite tribesmen on their way to a holy festival, known as Ghadeer, in Jawf province south of the Saudi border. As many as 30 people were injured.

Arab media quoted Yemeni security officials as saying the attack appeared to have been orchestrated by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. If so, it would suggest that the mostly Sunni militant organization was going after Yemen’s Shiite population in a pattern similar to Al Qaeda’s attacks on Shiites in Iraq.

Nasser Arrabyee, a Yemeni journalist, reported on his blog that local sources said Islamic militants were likely behind the attack: “Al Qaeda affiliates believe that celebration of Al Ghadeer is not Islamic. The sources said Al Qaeda repeatedly issued fatwas that Al Ghadeer is ‘Bedah’, not (a) truly Islamic occasion to celebrate.”

But in this nation battling terrorism, a southern secession movement and a northern rebellion, misinformation thrives. The government has often been accused of manipulating the threats of Al Qaeda and the Houthi rebels to gain Western support and advance its own agenda.

U.S. pressure on Yemen has increased in recent weeks after an Al Qaeda plot was uncovered to blow up airliners with package bombs. The U.S. is training and providing military equipment to Yemeni special forces, but the militants have not been dislodged from their strongholds in tribal lands.

-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: A suicide bombing in Yemen. Credit: Reuters