Mosque suicide bomber attacks leave 137 dead

At least 137 people have been killed and 345 wounded in suicide attacks on mosques in Yemen, according to a Shi’ite TV channel.

Four suicide bombers hit a pair of mosques controlled by Shi’ite rebels in the capital Sanaa, unleashing blasts through crowds of worshippers, according to medical officials.

The bombers attacked the Badr and al-Hashoosh mosques, across town from each other, during midday Friday prayers, the most crowded time of the week, according to the state news agency.

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While both mosques are controlled by Shi’ite rebels, known as Houthis, they are frequented by Sunni worshippers as well.

A group claiming to be a Yemeni branch of the Islamic State group said it carried out the bombings.

The group posted an online statement saying that five suicide bombers carried out what it described as a “blessed operation” against the “dens of the Shi’ites”.

The claim offered no proof of an IS role. It was posted on the same website on which the IS affiliate in Libya claimed Wednesday’s attack on a museum in Tunisia.

The Yemeni rebel-owned Al-Masirah TV channel said hospitals were urging citizens to donate blood. It also reported that a fifth suicide bomb attack on another mosque was foiled in the northern city of Saada, a Houthi stronghold.

Two suicide bombers attacked the Badr mosque. The first was caught by militia guards searching worshippers at the entrance and detonated his device at the outside gates.

Amid the ensuing panic, a second bomber entered the mosque and blow himself up amid the crowds, according to the official news agency SABA.

Survivors compared the explosions to an earthquake, and said some of those who survived the original blasts were then injured by shattered glass falling from the mosque’s large hanging chandeliers.

Another pair of suicide bombers attacked the al-Hashoosh mosque, according to the state news agency.

One witness from that attack said he was thrown two metres by one of the blasts.

“The heads, legs and arms of the dead people were scattered on the floor of the mosque,” Mohammed al-Ansi said, adding: “Blood was running like a river.”

The television channel aired footage from inside the al-Hashoosh mosque, where screaming volunteers were using blankets to carry away victims.

The dead included a small child, and corpses were lined up on the mosque floor and carried away in pick-up trucks.

Two gunmen who killed 21 people at a museum in Tunis trained in neighbouring Libya before the attack, Tunisian security officials have said.

Rafik Chelli, the Interior Ministry’s senior security official, said the attackers slipped out of Tunisia in December and received weapons training in Libya before returning home.

He told the El Hiwar El Tounsi TV channel that authorities did not have details about where or with which group they trained.

Authorities identified the gunmen as Yassine Laabidi and Hatem Khachnaoui.

Laabidi had been flagged to intelligence but not for anything specific, Mr Essid said.

Laabidi hailed from the working-class Tunis suburb of Ibn Khaldun, and Khachnaoui was from the western town of Sbeitla, an interior ministry official said. Wednesday’s attack at the National Bardo Museum killed 21 people, 17 of them cruise ship tourists, including British mother-of-two Sally Adey.

The two gunmen were killed in a firefight with security forces.

The Islamic State group based in Iraq and Syria has claimed the attack. Several well-armed groups in Libya have pledged allegiance to IS.

Police in Tunisia have arrested five people described as directly tied to the two gunmen. Four others said to be supporters of the cell were also arrested in central Tunisia.

, not far from where a group claiming allegiance to al Qaida’s North African branch has been active.

IS issued a statement and audio on jihadi websites applauding the dead gunmen as “knights” for their “blessed invasion of one of the dens of infidels and vice in Muslim Tunisia”.

Several well-armed groups in neighbouring and chaotic Libya had already pledged their allegiance to IS.

But the attack of such magnitude in Tunisia - the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings with a functioning democracy - raised concern about the spread of extremism to the rest of North Africa.

Analysts warned against seeing every such attack as evidence of a well-organised, centrally controlled entity spanning the Middle East, saying instead that small groups could merely be taking inspiration from the high-profile militant group.