(Updates with higher death toll, al Qaeda claiming attack)
SANAA, March 3 (Reuters) - Five people were killed in an al Qaeda suicide attack on a Houthi outpost in central Yemen on Tuesday, the Defence Ministry said, highlighting the volatility of a country torn by militant and sectarian violence.
The United States and its Gulf allies fear the spread of militant and sectarian violence in Yemen — situated between oil giant Saudi Arabia and an important Red Sea shipping lane — will push the country towards a civil war and unravel the state’s already limited control over its territory.
The ministry’s news website said five people were also wounded in Tuesday’s attack by a suicide bomber who detonated a vehicle laden with explosives on a youth centre used by the Houthi militia as an outpost in the city of al-Baydah.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the Sunni Muslim militant groups battling the Shi’ite Houthis since they captured AQAP’s central Yemen strongholds last year, said several of its members carried out the attack.
“A group of the Mujahideen stormed the building after detonating a booby-trapped car, and opened fire on the wounded Houthis inside,” AQAP’s local wing, known as Ansar al-Sharia, said in a statement. It said the attackers withdrew safely after they killed or wounded dozens of Houthis.
Local security sources earlier reported that two suicide bombers carried out the attack on the youth centre, which left two Houthi fighters dead and 15 other people wounded.
Violence has spread and intensified in Yemen since the Iranian-backed Houthis captured the capital Sanaa on Sept. 21 and fanned out south and east seizing traditional Sunni areas.
Yemen plunged deeper into political turmoil in January after the Houthis seized the presidential palace and forced the Western-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government to resign.
Political factions have been in talks to try to find a way out of the crisis. The talks were complicated after Hadi fled the house arrest imposed on him by the Houthis in Sanaa and moved to the southern city of Aden, which is outside the group’s control, where he reclaimed the presidency.
Once an obscure religious movement in Yemen’s north seeking greater autonomy, the Houthis have established themselves as power-brokers and have sent their militiamen into the west and centre of the country, far beyond their traditional redoubts.
Elsewhere, three government soldiers were killed and two wounded on Tuesday when a bomb hit their patrol in the city of al-Qatan in the eastern province of Hadramout, where AQAP also operates, local media reported, citing provincial officials. (Reporting by Ghobari in Sanaa, Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden and Mostafa Hashem in Cairo writing by Sami Aboudi; editing by Mark Heinrich)