By Noah Rayman
March 26, 2015

The explosions went off during the crowded Friday noon prayers in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. Two pairs of suicide bombers detonated their devices at separate mosques on March 20, killing more than 130 people, including at least 13 children.

The bombings, which targeted Shi’ite supporters of the Houthi rebel group that now controls Sana’a, marked a new level of violence, and a rare attack on mosques, in a power struggle that has brought the splintered Arab Gulf country close to collapse.

The Houthis, mostly members of a Shi’ite sect from the north, seized the capital in September from U.S.-backed President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Hadi fled to the southern city of Aden and declared a rival government in February. But the mosque attacks spurred the Houthis to launch a new offensive in Yemen’s south on March 21. Within a day they had overtaken Taiz, the nation’s third largest city, with the help of forces loyal to deposed Yemeni autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh. The U.S. evacuated all remaining personnel from the country as the Houthis advanced, allowing the rebels to seize an air-force base that special-operations forces had used in their drone campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the terrorist group’s Yemeni affiliate. By March 25, the Houthis and their allies were moving in on Aden and Hadi was reportedly fleeing the country by sea.

If the conflict descends into open warfare between Houthi militants and forces still loyal to Hadi, it threatens to draw in rival powers in the region. Iran, widely suspected of arming and funding its fellow Shi’ite Houthis, has called for Hadi to yield power. Saudi Arabia, alarmed at the prospect of Iran’s wielding influence in its neighbor, has moved artillery and armor to the border. Hadi has also sought military assistance from other Arab nations.

Against that backdrop, extremist groups are poised to thrive. A group claiming fealty to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the mosque bombings and warned of more attacks. There are particular worries about AQAP, which could attract recruits in the south by positioning itself as the main resistance to the Houthi advance–and, unlike ISIS, has shown a willingness and an ability to strike at the West.

The U.S. must watch all this from the sidelines as Yemen moves toward what Jamal Benomar, the country’s U.N. special envoy, described on March 22 as an “Iraq-Syria-Libya combined scenario.” Another country that embraced the Arab Spring is descending into a proxy war fought on sectarian lines.

ISRAEL

‘I view myself as the Prime Minister of each and every citizen of Israel, without any prejudice.’

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israeli Prime Minister, apologizing on March 23 for remarks made in the final days of his re-election campaign that were widely condemned as anti-Arab. He had warned that Israeli Arabs were going to the polls “in droves.”

POLL

DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA?

The Pew Research Center asked adult Internet users in 32 developing and emerging countries if they use social networks. Here’s a sampling of who said yes:

[This article consists of 5 illustrations. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

93%

Philippines

88%

Venezuela

86%

Indonesia

78%

Egypt

58%

China

A Bulwark of Buses

SYRIA

Three upended buses serve as protection from snipers loyal to Syria’s President Bashar Assad in Aleppo’s rebel-controlled Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood on March 21. The U.N. is trying to establish a cease-fire in the northern Syrian city, which is divided between forces loyal to the government and a range of insurgent groups, including Islamist militants and Western-backed rebels.

THE EXPLAINER

U.S. Slows Afghanistan Drawdown

President Obama announced on March 24 that the U.S. will keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2015 rather than reduce the number to 5,500 as originally planned. The timetable was revised after a personal entreaty in Washington from the country’s President, Ashraf Ghani, and reflects improving U.S.-Afghanistan relations:

Unfinished Business

Afghan forces are still struggling to subdue the Taliban insurgency; 2014 saw a record number of civilian deaths. U.S. officials also fear that an unstable Afghanistan would strengthen al-Qaeda and prove a magnet for ISIS.

Reset Relations

Obama hailed a “reinvigorated partnership” with Afghanistan, after his often rocky relationship with former President Hamid Karzai. But the U.S. still wants to withdraw almost all troops by 2017.

What’s Next

Ghani has also moved to repair ties with Pakistan, which may help him bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. But with the spring fighting season approaching, the continuing U.S. troop presence will provide much needed support.

WORLD

40%

Share of the world’s water needs that won’t be met in 2030 if current trends continue, according to a U.N. report warning of economic upheaval and new conflicts unless global policies on water use change

Trending In

ENVIRONMENT

France approved a law on March 19 that requires the roofs of new buildings in commercial zones to be partly covered with plants or solar panels. Rooftop vegetation soaks up runoff rainwater, boosts wildlife and can help conserve energy by cooling buildings naturally.

ELECTIONS

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan faces a stiff challenge on March 28 in an election that was rescheduled from February. A major issue is the Islamist group Boko Haram, which has retreated while continuing attacks and abductions.

DANCING

Chinese authorities say they will regulate the “reckless” practice of square dancing in public–beloved by the country’s seniors–after the craze provoked noise complaints. The government unveiled 12 “choreographed practices” to be taught by instructors with official training.

Write to Noah Rayman at noah.rayman@time.com.

This appears in the April 06, 2015 issue of TIME.

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