At least 25 people, including 15 children, died when two car bombs exploded in Radaa city in Yemen’s central province of al-Bayda, local and medical sources said Tuesday, a day after Houthis accused the president of promoting corruption and demanded access to oversee state funds.
The first car bomb exploded near a checkpoint manned by Houthi fighters while a female primary school bus was passing, killing 15 children, sources said.
The second car exploded near the house of an official in the area rumored to support Houthis killing ten, they said.
Radaa is a bastion of the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is considered by Washington as the most dangerous al-Qaeda branch.
Houthis established themselves as Yemen’s new power brokers when they took control of the capital Sanaa on September 21, facing little resistance from residents or from the weak administration of Western-backed President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Their ascendance has angered al-Qaeda
Meanwhile, in a fresh show of power, Houthi fighters prevented Yemen’s new army chief from entering the defense ministry Tuesday.
General Hussein Khairan, the army chief appointed by Hadi last week over Houthi objections, was barred from entering his office by Houthis, witnesses said.
The escalation of tension between Houthis and Hadi raises the prospect of open confrontation after months in which Hadi tried but failed to engage Houthis in the government.
Houthi leader Abdel Malik al-Houthi, in a speech to tribal leaders late on Monday at his northern Saada stronghold, said Hadi was a leading player in the country’s corruption.
“During the popular revolution and the popular escalation, President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi was at the forefront of the forces of corruption,” he said, referring to anti-government protests led by the group before it took over the capital.
“The Yemeni people … will not be indifferent forever,” he added.
A senior aide at the president’s office said the speech showed Houthis, who have penetrated state institutions since seizing Sanaa, were plotting to bring down Hadi’s administration and “complete their takeover of the state.”
“We expect that the group has prepared another plot similar to the one it had when it captured Sanaa,” the alleged official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
Houthi said committees he had set up to oversee ministries since Sanaa’s fall had uncovered attempts by unidentified officials to conduct an inventory of state assets and to “divide billions” of Yemeni Rials among themselves in the process.
He also demanded that the 2015 state budget be subject to “close review” and that the government turn over control of state bodies to “rebels to monitor, follow up and ensure that people’s funds are not wasted.”
“Fighting corruption is a primary issue and there is no wavering from that,” he said.
“Abdel Malik al-Houthi’s speech points to an impending confrontation with the authorities. No one knows exactly where it may lead,” said Ali Saif, a Yemeni analyst.
In addition to the rise of AQAP and the Houthis’ control of Sanaa, Yemen, an impoverished country of 25 million people, faces a secessionist movement in the south.
Yemen has been in political turmoil since an uprising in 2011.
The widespread and growing instability has alarmed neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, and other Gulf Arab states.
Separatists demand autonomy for the south and the annulment of a 1990 unification agreement that merged the South with the North. They failed in a civil war in 1994 to reverse the unification.
Moreover, the separatists have allied with AQAP militants to halt the advance of Houthi fighters, who have extended their control to coastal areas and regions beyond the capital.
AQAP has exploited instability in the impoverished country since a 2011 uprising forced president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
The militants remain active in southern and eastern regions of Yemen despite several military campaigns by government forces.
Yemen, a key ally of the United States, has been allowing Washington to carry out a longstanding drone war on its territory against AQAP.
According to rights groups, at least 33 civilians were killed in a total of 35 US drone attacks last year alone.