White House: cannot confirm link between Yemen attack, Islamic State

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House cannot confirm a claim by Islamic State that suicide bombers who attacked two mosques in Yemen were affiliated with the militant group, a spokesman said on Friday. "There is not, at this point, clear evidence of an operational link between these extremists in Yemen and ISIL fighters in Iraq and Syria," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, using a different acronym for Islamic State. Earnest condemned the attacks in Sanaa, which killed 126 people and wounded 260, and noted that claims of responsibility are sometimes made to advance propaganda efforts. He said the United States was trying to find out whether there were "command-and-control structures in place" to show any involvement by Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria. The group claimed responsibility for the attacks, in which four bombers wearing explosive belts targeted worshippers in and outside the crowded mosques. The White House spokesman said the attackers had tried to "capitalize on the chaos and instability inside of Yemen to carry out these acts of violence." Yemen has been in turmoil after a power struggle between President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Shi'ite Muslim Houthi group, which controls Sanaa and is allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. On Friday, the State Department called for an end to violence. "We call upon all actors within Yemen to halt all unilateral and offensive military actions, and we specifically call on the Houthis, former President Saleh and their allies to stop their violent incitement and undermining President Hadi, who is Yemen's legitimate president," said Jeff Rathke, a State Department spokesman. (Reporting by Julia Edwards, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Eric Beech and Grant McCool)