At least 22 people have been killed, following suicide bombings and attacks, by Islamic State militants, in Yemen.
Islamic State suicide bombers killed 22 people in attacks on Yemen’s government and its Gulf Arab coalition ally in the port city of Aden and on a Houthi-run mosque in the capital Sana’a on Tuesday, the jihadist group and state media said.
It was the first known direct Islamic State assault on the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the country’s civil war in March against Iranian-backed Houthi forces who had seized large areas of the country to that point.
Four coordinated Islamic State suicide bombings killed 11 Yemeni and four United Arab Emirates soldiers in Aden, Yemeni officials and the UAE state news agency said.
In Sana’a, seven people were killed in the attack on the al-Nour mosque in the al-Nahda district of the Houthi-controlled capital, the Houthi-run state news agency said.
Claiming responsibility for the Sana’a bombing, Islamic State said in a statement that dozens of Houthis preparing to go to the battlefront had been killed or wounded.
The Sunni militant Islamic State is hostile to both the US-backed Yemeni government and Arab coalition allies, as well as to the Shi’ite Muslim Houthis in Yemen’s complex conflict.
The Yemeni government returned from exile in Saudi Arabia and set up temporary headquarters in Aden’s al-Qasr hotel last month after Gulf Arab and Yemeni troops retook the major southern port city from Houthi forces.
Islamic State jihadists had hitherto refrained from openly targeting Yemen’s government and the Saudi-led coalition now fighting together to roll back Houthi domination over large areas of the Arabian Peninsula state.
Vice President Khaled Bahah, who is also prime minister, and cabinet colleagues escaped unharmed from what he said were car bomb attacks in Aden, two of which targeted the al-Qasr hotel.
“Today’s attack does not affect anybody. On the contrary, it binds us together more,” he told a cabinet meeting afterwards in comments carried by Dubai-based al-Arabiya television.
“We had come here to work and we know that there are security gaps… But this now prompts us to do more in the framework of reinforcing security in a bigger way by the general security services and armed forces.”
The United Arab Emirates state news agency said suicide bombers also targeted two Gulf Arab military sites in Aden.
“In a blessed operation facilitated by God, four martyrdom operations targeted a gathering of Saudi, Emirati and Yemeni officers,” Islamic State said in a statement.
Islamic State’s assault occurred with newly returned Yemeni authorities trying to restore order in Aden while government and Arab coalition forces thrust north and westwards with the ultimate goal of recapturing the capital Sana’a from the Houthis.
Sunni Islamist militants of various allegiances had tried to establish themselves in Aden but faced resistance from local militias. Islamic State, which is centred in Iraq and Syria, first emerged in Yemen in March with a series of suicide attacks on Shi’ite mosques in which 137 people died.