Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yemen Suicide Bombings a Reminder: Sunni-Shiite Tensions Matter There, Too

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yemen Suicide Bombings a Reminder: Sunni-Shiite Tensions Matter There, Too

Article excerpt

When Iranian-backed rebels took over Yemen's capital last month, they met little backlash - until now.

At least 47 people were reported killed Thursday and more than 75 wounded in a suicide bombing in Sanaa, which targeted the rebels, known as Houthis. In a separate attack in the eastern part of the country, at least 20 Yemeni soldiers were killed in an attack on their outpost by a suicide car bomber and other fighters, officials and witnesses said.

The attacks mark a worrying escalation of violence for one of the region's most fragile countries, which is riven by internal conflicts as well as regional tensions. Some suspect the local Al Qaeda franchise, which the US has tried to degrade with drone strikes, is exploiting those tensions to strengthen its power base.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has not claimed responsibility for Thursday's attacks, which bore the hallmarks of previous AQAP attacks. The group recently threatened to target the Houthis.

The attacks came amid a backdrop of rising sectarian tensions in Yemen, which some say have been fueled by regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis, whose religion is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, have for years been backed by Shiite Iran; in 2012 US officials alleged the Islamic Republic was sending them weapons, including Kalashnikov semi-automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), as well as cash.

They have fought an on-again off-again war with Yemen's central government since 2004, complaining of marginalization in Sanaa, and even engaged briefly in a cross-border conflict with neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Weak central governmentAccording to an in-depth Reuters report last week, one of the Houthis' main grievances was "the emergence of the hard-line Salafi Sunni strain ... which they believe was being encouraged by Saudi Arabia."

Yemen's central government has never been strong; the country's powerful tribes and rugged landscape make it difficult for anyone to control. …

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