Bomb kills four Yemenis marking Shi'ite Muslim Ashura festival
SANAA (Reuters) - At least three Shi'ite Muslims were killed on Saturday in a bomb attack targeting the first public commemoration of the anniversary of the death of a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad in the Yemeni capital in half a century.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but al Qaeda and its affiliates, comprising Sunni Muslim militants, have targeted Shi'ites in the past.
Medics and local officials said 13 other people were also wounded in the attack on a hall where the Shi'ites were leaving the ceremony in Sanaa after the Ashura rituals which recall the death of Imam Hussein in Iraq in the year 680 AD.
"Fourteen people were brought to hospital, and three of them have died," one medic at the Saudi German Hospital told Reuters.
A statement issued by the Houthis, a Shi'ite armed group based in northern Yemen, said the attackers also sprayed the crowd with gunfire and fled.
"We condemn this attack and consider the safety of Yemeni citizens the responsibility of the so-called national unity government," the statement said.
Yemeni Shi'ites, who follow the Zaydi creed, have gained strength in Sanaa since President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to step down following an uprising against his 33 years in office earlier this year. Saleh kept the rebels in check in northern Yemen, launching repeated campaigns against them.
Ashura rituals, which in other countries also involve self flagellation to express deep sorrow over the death of Imam Hussein, have been banned in Yemen since the 1,000-year Zaydi Imamate rule was overthrown in a coup in 1962.
Analysts and diplomats say the ascent of the Houthis has turned Yemen into a new front in a long struggle between Iran and Western powers, centered on a nuclear program that Israel and the West say is aimed at making atomic weapons. Iran denies those charges.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, writing by Sami Aboudi)