Assassins in Yemen kill two leaders; third survives separate attack

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

SANA, Yemen -- In the latest in a spate of assassinations in Yemen, gunmen on Tuesday shot and killed a leading member of a Shiite Muslim group on his way to reconciliation talks and a senior advisor to a provincial governor was slain by a bomb planted in his car, security officials said.

A third political figure, the son of the secretary-general of an Islamic party, survived an attempt on his life, officials said.

The attacks came against a backdrop of unrest that has torn Yemen in the wake of the 2011 ouster of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down after popular protests erupted across the Arab world, including in Yemen.

The fragile central government in this strategically located country is struggling to cope with insurgencies in the north and south, serious economic woes and the presence of one of the most virulent offshoots of Al Qaeda. A campaign of U.S. drone strikes aimed at Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the group is known, has exacerbated sentiment against the American-allied government.

Sectarian turmoil has worsened in the last three months amid fighting between the Shiite Muslim Houthis and Sunni Muslim Salafists. The Houthi leader slain in a hail of bullets in the heart of the capital, Sana, on Tuesday was Ahmad Sharafeddin, a delegate to talks to reorganize the political system and help calm the violence. Those factional negotiations ended Tuesday.

There was no claim of responsibility in Sharafeddin’s killing, but other Houthi leaders immediately cast blame on the Salafists. There was also no indication who had carried out the bombing targeting the senior gubernatorial aide in Lahj province, in the south.

In response to the wave of violence, President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi presided over an urgent gathering of top security officials and was given the authority to shake up his Cabinet, according to Yemeni news reports. Two ministers were expected to lose their jobs, an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. 

Hadi’s presidency was extended Tuesday for a year, during which time he is expected to preside over the creation of a federal system that will provide greater autonomy in order to meet some of the separatists’ demands.

[For the Record, 1:48 p.m. PST, Jan. 21: An previous version of this post reported that two Yemeni government ministers had been fired by President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The firings are expected but have not yet occurred.]

Twitter: @laurakingLAT

Special correspondent Ali reported from Sana and Times staff writer King from Cairo.

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