Crisis reignites:Deaths mount as fighting escalates in Sa’ada [Archives:2005/830/Front Page]

April 4 2005
Hussein Al-Houthi
Hussein Al-Houthi
Mohammed Al-Qadhi
Dozens of people have been reported killed and many injured in the ongoing battle between government troops and the followers of the slain dissident anti-US preacher Hussein al-Houthi, in Sa'ada, 240 km north Sana'a. Al-Houthi was killed last September after he led a three-month insurgence against the authorities that claimed the lives of more than 40 people.

The recent clashes broke out when some of al-Houthi's followers attacked a military vehicle in Suq al-Anad, between Suq al-Talh and Sa'ada, an official source said. These attacks killed seven policemen and wounded twenty others.

Government troops have escalated their assault on the rebels, who are now being led by the father of Hussein al-Houthi, cleric Badr Eddin al-Huthi. There have been tens of casualties since fighting recommenced. The army has brought in artillery to pound the brick compounds that the rebels are holding out in.

The rebels belong to the “Believing Youth” organization, a militant Islamic group that was established by Hussein al-Houthi in 1997, with the approval of authorities.

Security forces, which have been bombing the rebels' mountain strongholds in Nushur, Al-Shafia and Razamat, have lost five reconnaissance and military intelligence personnel in an ambush laid by the militants, sources said. Around 200 people have been wounded on both sides.

Rebels carrying out guerrilla attacks in various parts of the governorate attacked a military compound near the education college on Thursday night, killing two soldiers, a tribal source told the Yemen Times. They also attacked Kahlan military brigade, wounding six soldiers. Tribal sources told Yemen Times that one of the leading military officers on the ground was killed on Friday evening along with four of his escorts. “Abdulkareem al-Makdashi, operations officer of the canon brigade was killed in an attack by the rebels with four of his escorts,” said the source.

As there have not been accurate official reports about the death toll, it has been left to estimations, but opposition media reports said on Thursday that the Wednesday's fight left 120 deaths and injuries among the rebels.

Army Deputy chief of Staff, General Ali Mohammad Salah, said on Thursday that army and police units were “surrounding the subversive elements and outlaws in order to force them to surrender and then prosecute them.”

Security forces are “using military force… and trying to storm the rebels' hideouts while seeking to minimize human losses by capturing the insurgents or persuading them to turn themselves in,” he said.

However, tribal sources dismissed the possibility that tribal mediations could bring fighting to an end as the rebels, who have been brainwashed by al-Houthi, are fighting vigorously. The broker committee that was set up last year by President Saleh, failed to convince al-Houthi surrender.

Abdullah Ayedh al-Razami, Yusuf Madani who recently married one of Hussein al-Houthi's daughters and Houthi's brother Abdul Malak, are now leading the rebels on the ground, while al-Houthi's father, the 86-year old Badr Eddin, has taken the role of spiritual leader.

The old man left Sana'a two weeks ago and was received by over 2000 of al-Houthi's supporters. The authorities accused Badr Eddin al-Houthi of standing behind his son's supporters, saying that he left the capital suddenly after he was granted safety by the government. He has been accused of breaking his promise not to support an insurgency against the government.

Razami, a top Huthi aide, was reported by officials to have surrendered to authorities along with dozens of supporters ten days after the announcement of the preacher's death, but he was later released and went back to Sa'ada

People have begun evacuating their villages, looking for shelter from the aircraft raids, artillery shells and tanks. “The al-Salam hospital is full of dead and wounded bodies from the two sides,” a tribal source told Yemen Times while observing military helicopters hovering over the battle zone. He described the human situation there as “miserable, as poor people have started leaving their houses in the look out for a safer place.”

The Yemeni authorities accuse the slain Hussein al-Houthi, a former member of parliament for the al-Haqq Islamic party, of fomenting sectarian strife in a society where the Shi'ite minority and Sunni sects have lived in harmony for hundreds of years, and of soliciting foreign support to achieve this goal. Al-Houthi denied these allegations and said that the conflict with the authorities was a result of his anti-US stand. During the main weekly prayers each Friday, al-Houthi's followers used to chant slogans against Israel and the United States, calling for a boycott of American products. The authorities arrested hundreds of his followers and said that it was difficult to convince them retract from their fanatic views.

The Interior Minister Rashad al-Alimi told the parliament last July that the “activities of al-Huthi started in 1997, by setting up some unlicensed religious centers in Sa'ada which then spread to other governorates,” He added that the man established an armed secret organization which split from al-Haqq party called the “al-Shabab al-Mum'en” (Believing Youth). He said that that some militants within the organization receive monthly salaries of between $50 and $200, which shows that there are foreign elements acting behind them. The minister did not say who these foreign elements are.