Government tightens security in Sa’ada following deadly mosque blast [Archives:2008/1152/Front Page]

May 5 2008

Mohammed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, May 4 ) The Yemeni government has dispatched troops and artillery to Sa'ada and closed all entrances to the city since early morning, preventing citizens' entry or exit, local sources said Sunday, adding that authorities also have prevented the entry of fruits, vegetables and basic foodstuffs into the city.

This comes after a bomb rigged to a motorcycle blew up amid a crowd of worshippers leaving Friday prayers at the governorate's Bin Salem Mosque, killing at least 16 and wounding 45 others.

The same sources say Yemeni security and military forces have been raiding citizens' homes, launching arrest campaigns against citizens and kidnapping whoever gets in their way. The governorate's police department has imposed a curfew banning citizens' movements to villages and districts around the provincial capital, thereby forcing them to take roadways where landmines are planted.

Sources further accuse Salafi extremists of backing the army in its fight with Houthis.

“There are confirmed facts, which we will unveil soon, indicating that the authorities are responsible for bombing Bin Salem Mosque and exploiting those extremist jihadists affiliating themselves with Al-Qaeda, which wants the Sa'ada fighting to continue,” one Sa'ada citizen said on condition of anonymity.

“A week ago, security authorities abducted 15 children from Haidan and Munabbeh districts and took them to an unidentified location. We appeal to the public at both the local and the international levels to intervene in obtaining the release of these abducted children,” the same source added.

According to various media outlets, Sa'ada city was intimidated by the motorbike's bomb, which targeted worshippers leaving the mosque after Friday prayers. Official sources said the casualties include soldiers, a woman and a child.

The Interior Ministry has accused Houthis of launching the attack against the worshipers, but Houthis denied responsibility for it in a statement released by their field leader, Abdulmalik Al-Houthi.

However, Sa'ada Governor Mutahhar Rashad Al-Masri confirms that Houthi supporters are, in one way or another, involved in the mosque blast.

In his statement, Abdulmalik Al-Houthi said, “We denounce and condemn such a tragic incident that hit Bin Salem Mosque in Sa'ada city.” He further conveyed his condolences to victims' families in an emailed message, stressing the necessity of objectively determining the motives for the attack and identifying the real perpetrators. He warned the government against “fishing in muddy waters,” implying that it should handle the situation objectively.

Such a terrorist act is the largest of its kind in Sa'ada city, as operations in past days have taken the form of ambushes along the highway leading to the city. Houthis are believed to be responsible for these ambushes, which have resulted in a limited number of casualties.

The mosque attack came a day after the Yemeni military announced that seven of its soldiers had been killed and blamed Houthi supporters for it. Even before Friday's attack, more government troops had been expected to be deployed to the area.

In the past few days, the war-ravaged governorate has experienced numerous blasts and ambushes against troops, leaving more than 10 security soldiers dead. According to political analysts, such incidents may mean an end to efforts by the Qatari mediation team, which is seeking reconciliation between the Yemeni government and Houthi supporters.

Having realized that a previously formed mediation committee failed to do its job in Sa'ada, the authority ordered forming a new presidential mediation committee a few days ago in an effort to contain the escalating turmoil.

Such repeated incidents offer strong indicators of a fifth Sa'ada war between government troops and Houthi loyalists, primarily since Bin Salem Mosque was bombed and the authorities launched a massive arrest campaign against Houthis.

“While the mosque belongs to the Zaidi sect, Salafi extremist Askar Bin Zueil, who leads thousands of Salafi volunteers coming from various Yemeni governorates to fight with Houthis, claims that the victims were Salafis. These Salafis operate according to orders given by Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, commander of the northern military flank,” a source told the Yemen Times.

The source added, “In giving his Friday sermons, Zueil attempts to convince Zaidis to abandon their sect and stop supporting Abdulmalik Al-Houthi's fight with the army.”

The Joint Meeting Parties strongly condemned the mosque blast, which they described as '”a hooligan crime” against Muslims who had just performed their Friday prayers. The opposition coalition warned that in addition to killing and injuring dozens of innocent citizens, the attack threatened social peace. It further demanded the relevant authorities investigate the motives behind the incident and bring the perpetrators to court.

According to the JMP, this is the first time Yemen has witnessed mosques being used for such liquidations, stressing that the Yemeni security authorities must be up to the task of maintaining national security and stability.

Speaking to the Yemen Times by phone, Houthi representative Sheikh Saleh Habra appreciated the return of the Qatari mediation team to reconcile the two conflicting sides.

He further urged the authority to release Sheikh Naji Bakhtam, whom influential security agents have detained for two weeks, accusing his kidnappers of planning to foil reconciliation efforts to end the crisis in Sa'ada.