An armed group describing itself as the Yemeni branch of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for coordinated suicide bombings at two Shia mosques in Sanaa on Friday that left more than 100 people dead.
The Associated Press reported that at least 137 people were killed and 345 others injured in the midday attacks, which targeted the Badr and Hashoosh mosques. The mosques are across town from each other in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital.
The group posted an online statement in which it claimed that five suicide bombers carried out what it described as a "blessed operation" against the "dens of the Shias." Al-Qaeda and ISIL consider Shia Muslims infidels and view them as a sign of Iran’s growing influence in the region.
Leading Houthi cleric Al-Murtada bin Zayd al-Muhatwari, the imam of Badr mosque, was among those killed in Friday’s attack, a medical source told Agence France-Presse.
The statement was published on the same website on which ISIL’s affiliate in Libya claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s deadly attack on a museum in Tunisia. The statement about Friday’s attack could not be independently verified, and it is not clear whether the group is an affiliate of ISIL.
"I was going to pray at the mosque, then heard the first explosion, and a second later I heard another one," a witness told Reuters about Friday’s blasts.
Hospitals in Sanaa were appealing for blood donors to help treat the large number of casualties.
After months of fighting between the government and armed factions in Yemen, Houthi rebels, who are Shia, seized control of the capital in September and then dissolved parliament last month. The Houthis’ rise to power has worsened divisions in Yemen's complex web of political and religious allegiances and left the country increasingly cut off from the outside world. Its public services, including schools and hospitals, have been left crippled.
Fearing Houthi control, Yemen’s elected President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled the capital in February with allies to the economic hub of Aden, where they established a new capital. Shortly afterward, the U.S., the U.K. and France announced they were closing their embassies in Sanaa.
The carnage came just one day after forces loyal to Yemen's ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who supports the Houthis, stormed the international airport in Aden and launched airstrikes on Hadi’s presidential palace in Aden.
Amid the political instability, Al-Qaeda's Yemen branch has stepped up attacks in the country, especially against the Houthis.
Al Jazeera and wire services