A massive vehicle bomb exploded Wednesday outside the residence of the Iranian ambassador in Yemen's increasingly chaotic capital. The envoy was not in the building at the time, but at least three people, including the bomber, were killed and more than 20 others injured, an Interior Ministry official said.
The attack came amid a broad offensive by Iran-allied Shiite Muslim Houthi rebels, who have taken over the capital and set off intensified sectarian fighting across much of the country.
The Houthi gains in Yemen have sounded alarm bells in Saudi Arabia, Iran's Sunni Muslim arch-rival. Western governments have also expressed growing concern about deteriorating security in strategically located Yemen, which lies along key shipping lanes.
Wednesday's powerful blast, which reverberated across the city, sent debris flying over a wide area, badly damaging not only the targeted compound but nearby structures and cars as well. Some employees of the oil ministry were working in one nearby building and were said to be among the casualties.
Unofficial reports said as many as five people were killed, but those could not be confirmed. Yemeni security officials as well as Houthi representatives converged on the scene, where the charred, twisted remains of the vehicle apparently used in the attack could be seen.
In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said all embassy personnel were accounted for and that the ambassador was uninjured. The Iranian envoy, Hossain Niknam, had presented his credentials only last week.
The bombing demonstrated the ability of the attackers -- whose identity was not immediately clear -- to penetrate a heavily fortified area of the city, which is home to many foreign diplomatic missions.
Although there was no claim of responsibility, the attack bore the hallmarks of previous strikes by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which considers the Shiite Houthis its bitter enemies. The group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in October that killed nearly 50 people at a Houthi checkpoint in Sana.
Ali is a special correspondent. Staff writer Laura King in Cairo and special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.