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Yemeni mosque death toll rises to 137

It's said Yemen is vulnerable to terrorist attacks as it lacks a powerful government.

Yemeni armed men inspect the damage following a bomb explosion at the Badr mosque in southern Sanaa on 20 March, 2015. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG/ SANAA - While the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings on two mosques in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, it's said the country is vulnerable to such attacks as it lacks a powerful government.

A total of 137 died and 357 were injured when suicide bombers, pretending to be disabled and hiding explosives under casts, attacked the mosques yesterday.

Four bombers wearing explosive belts targeted worshippers in and around the crowded mosques.

Both mosques were used mainly by supporters of the Houthi rebel movement which controls Sanaa.

The attacks on mosques used by supporters of the Shi'ite Muslim Houthi fighters who control the city were the deadliest in a years-long campaign of violence in the country, where Washington has been waging a drone air war against a local branch of the Sunni Muslim militant group al-Qaeda.

Sectarian unrest has increased in recent months after the Iran-backed Shi'ite fighters seized the capital last year.

Hospitals were overwhelmed, appealing for blood donors to help treat the large number of casualties.

Television footage showed young men in traditional Yemeni clothes carrying lifeless bodies, some dripping with blood, out of the mosque.

In Washington, the White House condemned the bombings and said it could not confirm that the attackers were affiliated with Islamic State.

HURTLING TOWARDS CIVIL WAR

Yemen has been hurtling towards civil war since last year, when the Houthis seized most of the north, including Sanaa.

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a US ally, fled the capital in February after a month imprisoned by the Houthis under house arrest and has set up a power base in the southern city of Aden.

Unidentified warplanes have attacked his Aden palace for the past two days.

Anti-aircraft guns fired on two planes that dropped bombs on an area that includes his residence on Friday. He was unharmed, sources at the presidency said.

While Yemen is one of the main bases of al-Qaeda, it has not previously been known as a major base for Islamic State, the al-Qaeda offshoot also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Since last year, when Islamic State swept across northern Iraq and declared a caliphate to rule over all Muslims, militants in other countries have expressed their support for the group, although it is not clear if it actually directs them.

In Washington, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said there was no clear operational link between the people who carried out Friday's attacks in Yemen and Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned "the terrorist attacks" and called on all sides "to immediately cease all hostile actions and exercise maximum restraint."

Yemen has been sliding into turmoil since its long serving ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh was toppled after "Arab Spring" protests that began in 2011. Saleh is now believed to have allied himself with the Houthi fighters that he tried to crush while president.

Since fleeing the capital, Hadi has been trying to consolidate his hold over Aden to challenge the Houthis' ambitions to control the whole country.

Thirteen people were killed on Thursday when forces loyal to Hadi fought their way into Aden's international airport and wrested an adjacent military base from a renegade officer, Aden governor Abdulaziz bin Habtoor said.