The Islamic State’s “Sana’a Province” in Yemen claimed credit for the coordinated suicide attacks at two Houthi mosques in the capital today. More than 100 people were killed in the first major operation by the Islamic State inside Yemen.
The suicide attacks were claimed by the “Media Office of Sana’a Province,” according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The Islamic State said that four “knights of martyrdom wearing explosive belts” attacked the Badr and Hashush mosques in Sana’a, “and blew up the headquarters of their polytheism.” Additionally, the Islamic State claimed another suicide attack against “another den of theirs in Sada’a.”
The jihadist group threatened further attacks against the Houthis, a Shiite rebel group that is backed by Iran. The Houthis seized control of Sana’a and ousted the government of President Hadi last summer.
“Let the polytheist Houthis know that the soldiers of the Islamic State will not rest and will not stay still until they extirpate them, deter their assault, and cut off the arm of the Safavid project in Yemen, with power from Allah and His strength,” the statement says.
“This operation is but the tip of the iceberg that is coming,” the release continued.
The coordinated suicide attack was timed to inflict maximum casualties as the bombings took place during Friday prayers. Medical officials told Reuters that 126 people were killed in the assault and hundreds more may have been wounded.
The suicide assault, or coordinated attack using one or more suicide bombers and an assault team, is a tactic frequently used by jihadist groups, including the Islamic State, its rival, al Qaeda, and al Qaeda allies such as the Afghan Taliban, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Suicide assaults are commonly executed by jihadist groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Nigeria.
Islamic State’s first major attack in Yemen
The Islamic State has claimed to have a “province” in Yemen since mid-November 2014, when Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of the group and self-declared caliph, welcomed the Yemeni branch into the fold.
Baghdadi touted “the expansion of the Islamic State to new lands, to the lands of al Haramain [Saudi Arabia] and Yemen, and to Egypt, Libya and Algeria.” [See LWJ report, Islamic State leader claims ‘caliphate’ has expanded in new audio message.]
But the Islamic State has not launched a significant attack inside Yemen until today.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda’s official branch in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, has been the primary jihadist group inside Yemen. AQAP has been waging a deadly insurgency against both the government and the Houthi rebels.
AQAP has been critical of the Islamic State’s expansion from Iraq and Syria. Just four days after Baghdadi accepted the oath of allegiance from its provinces in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, and Algeria, Harith bin Ghazi al Nadhari, a senior AQAP sharia official who was later killed in a US drone strike, claimed that the Islamic State had “split the ranks of the mujahideen, and scattered them.”
Nadhari also claimed that the Islamic State placed “false implants” in these countries, and that its expansion is “cleaving the ranks of jihad throughout the Muslim world.” [See LWJ report, AQAP rejects Islamic State’s ‘caliphate,’ blasts group for sowing dissent among jihadists.]
Today’s suicide bombings indicate that the Islamic State has organized inside Yemen and now has the capacity to conduct major attacks, despite AQAP’s criticism and opposition to the group.