A suicide bomber struck at a wake in Yemen's southern city of Jaar overnight, killing at least 45 people and wounding dozens more including the leader of a local group fighting al-Qa'ida-linked militants, officials and medics said today.
The bomber appeared to have been targeting the commander of the Popular Committees, a group of tribal fighters that fought alongside the Yemeni army during an offensive against Ansar al-Sharia militants in the region. The government had hailed the campaign then as a major victory in June.
"This is a cowardly, criminal, terrorist attack," said the Abyan governor, Jamal al-Aqel, adding that an investigation was under way to determine the bomber's identity.
Abdul Latif Al Sayed, the leader of one of the tribal fighting units known as Popular Committees, was injured in the blast. Two of his brothers were killed.</p>
The attack highlighted the enduring threat of Islamist militancy in Yemen and may alarm the United States and Saudi Arabia, which increasingly view the impoverished state as a front line in their war on al-Qa'ida and its affiliates.
Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) seized several towns in Abyan last year, establishing a foothold there while then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh was grappling with mass protests that eventually toppled him.
The United States supported the military campaign that drove the Islamist fighters from their strongholds in June, but residents and analysts say the militants are simply lying low and waiting for a chance to regroup.