Yemeni immigrants at Oakland mosque grieve for victims of Sanaa suicide bombing
OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - The suicide bomb explosions in Yemen's capital Sanaa slaughtered more than 130 worshipers, including children, who had come for Friday prayers at two mosques, and sent shock waves across the world to a small mosque in West Oakland and its predominantly Yemeni congregation.
"To kill people that came to the mosque to pray, to kill kids, to kill old people," said Mohamed Saleh, imam at Masjid Al-Salam, "That's why the people, all people, they're so shocked because this is the first time it happened in Yemen."
One of the members told KTVU off camera, that he lost a relative in the suicide bomb attacks. He and others worry about their families in Yemen, where civil strife has left the sacred ground of mosques untouched until now.
Four suicide bombers, working in pairs, detonated explosives inside the packed mosques and at the main exit gates. As of Friday evening, Yemeni television reported 137 people dead including 13 children, and 357 people injured.
"When the first explosion happened, they used the chaos and the vacuum to enter the mosque in the middle of prayer and blow us up from inside," said Abdullah Aldanani, an eyewitness who spoke at one scene through an interpreter.
Peaceful prayers turned into a bloody massacre.
The attacks have sparked international concern because of Yemen's growing instability.
Yemen is a poor country with a mostly Sunni Muslim population and has been in chaos since September 2014 when a group of Houthi Shiite rebels overthrew the Sunni government and took control of 9 of the 21 provinces.
Sunni extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda have gained a foothold there and Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) based in Yemen, has become the group's most powerful branch. On Friday, however, AQAP formally denied responsibility. Their leader reportedly has prohibited attacks on mosques.
Instead, a group called Sanaa Province sent out an online message through Twitter, claiming to be responsible for the attacks. The group claims to be affiliated with the Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq.
The White House said there is no confirmation of the group's claims, but the U.S. is investigating and condemns the attacks.
"We deplore the brutality of the terrorists who perpetrated today's unprovoked attack on Yemeni citizens," said Josh Earnest, the White House Press Secretary.
Among Oakland's sizable Yemeni immigrant population, there's outrage mixed with deep desire for peace in a homeland warped by war.
Oakland resident Ebrahim Saeed, 26, shared his concerns with KTVU at the corner store in West Oakland where he works.
"A mosque is supposed to be a sacred place, a place where you connect with God spiritually and where no matter what's going on, you leave it at the door," Saeed said.
Saeed says he's sad to see Yemen in such chaos.
"I always remember my childhood as growing up in a safe country and really friendly people, so this Yemen today is just unfamiliar and it's just scary."
It appears a third suicide attack failed at a mosque in the northern city of Saada, a Houthi stronghold about 160 miles north of the capital.