A Yemen-based affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) armed group has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the rebel-held capital of Sanaa that killed 25 people during prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
The twin explosions, which also wounded dozens of worshippers, tore through the al-Bolayli mosque on Thursday morning, according to Yemeni security officials.
The mosque is located in an area where many residents support the Shia rebels, also known as Houthis, who have controlled Sanaa since last September.
— اخبار #اليمن yemen (@yemen4news) September 24, 2015
The ISIL affiliate’s claim of responsibility came in a statement circulated on Twitter by the Sunni group’s supporters.
Witnesses reported that after a first blast inside the mosque, a second suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt at the entrance as worshippers rushed outside.
ISIL, a Sunni Muslim group which controls swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, considers Shia Muslims to be heretics.
ISIL bomb attacks targeting several Shia mosques in Sanaa on March 21 killed 142 people. The group has also claimed attacks on mosques in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The capital of Sunni-majority Yemen has been under the control of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels for the past year. The Houthis have also expanded their grip to other parts of the country.
— Yemen Post Newspaper (@YemenPostNews) September 24, 2015
Extremists exploit chaos
Pro-government forces backed by air strikes and troops provided by a Saudi-led Arab coalition have recently managed to wrest back some southern provinces, including the second city of Aden.
After six months in exile in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi returned to Aden on Tuesday with a vow to liberate the country from the Houthis.
The Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against the rebels on March 26, and began a ground operation in July.
Hadi loyalists began an all-out offensive against the Houthis in the oil-rich Marib province east of Sanaa earlier this month, aiming to retake the capital.
The United Nations says around 5,000 people have been killed and 25,000 wounded, many of them civilians, since late March in Yemen.
Yemen has descended into chaos since the 2012 ouster of longtime strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, and security has broken down since Houthi militiamen swept unopposed into the capital a year ago.
ISIL and the Yemen-based branch of its rival Al-Qaeda have exploited the turmoil to boost their activities in the impoverished country on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
Al-Qaeda has long been a dominant force in Yemen, located next to oil-flush Saudi Arabia and key shipping lanes, but experts say ISIL is seeking to supplant its rival.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) controls parts of the vast southeastern province of Hadramawt, including the provincial capital Mukalla, which it is seized in April.
It has distanced itself from ISIL’s tactics, saying that it avoids targeting mosques to protect “innocent Muslims”.