Al-Qaeda said on Friday the aging spiritual guide of northern Yemen's Shiite rebels was among those killed in a suicide bombing in November, dismissing accounts that Badreddin al-Huthi died of natural causes.
Huthi was among the dead on November 24 when Al-Qaeda bomber Abu Aisha al-Sanaani al-Hashemi struck a Shiite procession in Al-Jawf, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said in a statement on an Islamist website.
The rebels, observing an uneasy truce with Sanaa since February, said a suicide car bombing killed 23 fighters or backers at the religious procession, but that Huthi, an asthma sufferer, died a natural death a day later.
The Zaidi Shiites "claimed that the cause of death was natural" and "concealed his death and spread rumours contrary to the truth," AQAP said in a statement monitored by US-based SITE Intelligence Group.
Badreddin al-Huthi was the father of rebel commander Abdulmalik al-Huthi and of his predecessor Hussein al-Huthi, who was killed in the on-off Shiite uprising in northern Yemen that erupted in 2004.
The Shiite faith makes up the majority community in Yemen's northern mountains but a minority in the mainly Sunni country as a whole.
Yemen is the ancestral homeland of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and has been a growing focus for the operations of his worldwide network, sparking a sharp increase in US military aid.
But its attacks had previously been largely confined to the capital Sanaa and to the mainly Sunni south and east of Yemen, rather than the Shiite majority north.
"The truth is that the happiest people with you are the American intelligence who halted the war with you in return for your work as agents for them in your war against the mujahedeen (Muslim fighters)," AQAP said on Friday.
In a statement dated November 25 and posted online on jihadist websites, the group called the Huthi rebels "legitimate targets" and said "new attacks are being prepared" against them.