SAN'A, Yemen - A bomb rigged to a motorcycle blew up amid a crowd of worshipers leaving prayers yesterday at a Shi'ite mosque in a rebel stronghold of northern Yemen, killing at least 18 people and wounding about four dozen, officials said.
The attack occurred in Saada, a city in a mountainous area on the border with Saudi Arabia where a rebellion by Shi'ite Muslims of the al-Zaydi sect erupted in 2004. Thousands have died in violence between the rebels and the government of this predominantly Sunni country.
Both sides blamed each other for the attack in Saada, where officials said most of the 18 dead and approximately 45 injured were worshipers filing out of the Bin Salman mosque.
Government officials blamed the bombing on rebel leader Abdel-Malek al-Hawthi and said six people had been arrested.
Hawthi denied involvement and charged that senior army officers staged the attack to stoke tensions. "We denounce and condemn this incident," he said by telephone. "We have nothing to do with this attack whatsoever."
The rebels say the government is corrupt and too closely allied with the West. The government has charged Hawthi with sedition, forming an illegal armed group, and inciting anti-American sentiment.
Yemen is a key US ally in the Middle East, but it also is the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden's family and Al Qaeda loyalists are active in the country.
Recently there have been a series of attacks in Yemen targeting foreigners. But car bombings and attacks on mosques are rare.
The mosque attack came a day after Yemen's military announced the killing of seven soldiers and blamed Saada rebels. More government troops were expected to be deployed to the area even before yesterday's attack.