Sanaa: A suicide car bomber killed 23 Shiites at a religious procession in Yemen today, an attack a tribal chief charged was a bid by Al-Qaeda to fan sectarian tensions in the already restive country.
Tribal leaders said the dead were all supporters or fighters of a Zaidi Shiite rebel group which has been observing an uneasy truce with the government since February.
The bomber struck in Al-Jawf province, a rebel stronghold in the far north, as the faithful were preparing to mark Al-Ghadeer, the day on which Shiites commemorate the annointment of Ali, one of the key figures of their faith, as successor to the Prophet Mohammed.
"It was a suicide bombing and it was the work of Al-Qaeda," the tribal chief said.
"The suicide bomber driving a four-wheel drive vehicle blew himself up alongside the procession," he said."Among the dead was provincial tribal chief Hussein bin Ahmed bin Hadhban and his son."
Yemen is the ancestral homeland of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and has been a growing focus for the operations of his worldwide jihadist network, sparking a sharp increase in US military aid.
But the fanatically Sunni movement's attacks had previously been largely confined to the capital and to the mainly Sunni south and east of Yemen, rather than the Zaidi majority north.
Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam told AFP by telephone that the attack was an attempt by the "American and Israeli intelligence services to plunge Yemen into confessional and tribal conflict."
A second tribal chief said that 11 of the dead, who were rebel supporters, were buried straight away in accordance with Muslim tradition.
"The bodies of the other 12, who were Huthi fighters, were taken away by the rebels," he added, referring to them by the clan name of their leaders.The mountains of Al-Jawf and neighbouring Saada and Amran provinces have been a stronghold of the rebels in the uprising they have been waging against the Sanaa government on and off for the past six years.