By Bill Roggio

An al Qaeda suicide bomber killed 17 Shia worshipers in an attack today on a Shia procession in northern Yemen.

The suicide bomber targeted rammed a truck packed with explosives into a parade of rebel Shia Houthis who were commemorating an important religious day in the northern province of Al Jawf. A senior tribal leader and his son were among those reported killed.

“Seventeen people were killed and 15 wounded in the car bombing that targeted a Shia procession in Al-Jawf province,” Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesman for the Houthis, told AFP. “Among the dead was provincial tribal chief Hussein bin Ahmed bin Hadhban and his son.”

The Houthis, who are based in Al Jawf and Sana’a, have been battling the Sunni government for years. Earlier this year, the Houthis also battled with Saudi security forces along the northern border. Hundreds of Houthi fighters and Saudi troops were killed in the fighting.

The Yemeni government has used al Qaeda and other local terror groups, as well as pro-government tribes, to battle the Houthis. In January 2008, a spokesman for an al Qaeda cell in Yemen said the government had recruited some of its members to fight in the Saada War. In exchange, the security forces agreed to “ease the persecution of (al Qaeda) members.”

In the past, the government encouraged its young men to fight in Iraq and then return to fight against the Houthi. In early 2007, a Yemeni newspaper counted more than 1,800 Yemenis who traveled to Iraq for jihad; their families said the young men were trained by top-level Yemeni military commanders.

The cooperative agreement between the Yemeni government and al Qaeda collapsed after al Qaeda’s branches in Saudi Arabia and Yemen merged in 2009 into Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP has declared war on the Yemeni state and has conducted numerous attacks against security forces and the oil infrastructure.

Since the creation of AQAP, Yemen has become a major hub for al Qaeda’s global operations. AQAP has also sought to carry out attacks against the West, including the US. Since November 2009, three terror attacks directed at the US have been traced back to Yemen: the murder of 13 soldiers at a deployment center at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009, by a Muslim US Army major; the attempted bombing of an airplane over Detroit on Christmas Day by a Nigerian trained in Yemen; and the failed parcel bomb plot that was uncovered just weeks ago. The first two attacks were inspired by Anwar al Awlaki, a US citizen who has been designated as a terrorist for supporting terror activities. Awlaki is currently sheltering in Yemen.

“Yemen is Pakistan in the heart of the Arab world,” one official told The Long War Journal last year. “You have military and government collusion with al Qaeda, peace agreements, budding terror camps, and the export of jihad to neighboring countries.”

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