A pair of car bombs in central Yemen on Tuesday killed at least 25 people, nearly two-thirds of them schoolgirls whose bus was hit, Yemeni officials said.
A Shiite Muslim rebel group blamed Al Qaeda for causing the girls’ deaths in a botched attack on a Shiite official under the rebels' protection.
Impoverished but strategic Yemen, long beset by pervasive tribal and sectarian violence that a weak central government has been unable to rein in, entered a phase of even more serious instability after Shiite Houthi rebels overran the capital, Sana, in September and seized swaths of territory in other parts of the country.
The Houthis, aligned with Shiite Muslim Iran, have been locked in combat with the Yemen affiliate of Al Qaeda, which has been a target of repeated U.S. drone strikes.
On Dec. 6, Al Qaeda captors executed an American hostage, journalist Luke Somers, and a South African being held with him as American special forces backed by Yemeni troops attempted a rescue raid, the Pentagon said.
In Sana, Houthis were reportedly massing Tuesday near the Defense Ministry, with tension running high after an incendiary speech a day earlier by a Houthi leader. Over the weekend, the Houthis claimed to have gained control of Arhab, an outlying district of Sana, cementing their grip on the capital.
At least one of the bombs that went off Tuesday in Bayda province, south of Sana, was believed to have targeted a checkpoint outside the home of a Shiite official, Abdullah Idris. But one of the explosions hit a passing bus carrying female elementary school students, killing at least 15 of them, according to an unidentified military official quoted on a website associated with the Defense Ministry.
The 10 other dead in Tuesday’s blasts in the city of Rada included Houthi rebels and civilians, officials and witnesses said, but the breakdown was not immediately clear. The area, long an Al Qaeda stronghold, recently has been a hot spot of fighting between Al Qaeda and Houthi forces.
The growing turmoil in Yemen, which is situated alongside key oil-shipping routes, has alarmed neighboring Saudi Arabia, the main regional Sunni Muslim power, which accuses Iran of fomenting violence in Yemen and elsewhere.
The confrontation echoes sectarian strife being played out across in the region, most notably in Syria’s savage civil war and in Iraqi government forces’ summertime retreat in the face of an offensive by the Sunni militants of Islamic State.
A U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes is underway to try to reverse gains by Islamic State, which still maintains control of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and major towns in Syria.
Special correspondent Ali reported from Sana and Times staff writer King from Cairo.
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