Human “identifiers” replace ID cards in determining Houthis [Archives:2008/1168/Front Page]

June 30 2008

Almigdad Mojalli
SANA'A, June 29 ) Security forces at checkpoints on roads leading to Sana'a governorate's Bani Hushaish district are using a new mechanism to identify potential rebels and control the Houthi influx into the area.

Previously, they classified citizens passing through checkpoints according to their birthplace listed on their identity card. However, the problem was that some citizens from neighboring areas, such as Khawlan, had their IDs issued in Bani Hushaish; therefore, their IDs could incriminate them, although they aren't from the district.

Therefore, new updates from the field indicate that security personnel now are employing several local men as “identifiers” to assist police in clarifying the affiliation or loyalty of travelers.

These human identifiers must have a good knowledge of the area and its locals. They are chosen from areas adjacent to Bani Hushaish, particularly Khawlan, and from the eastern half of the district, where residents are known to be pro-state and not Houthis.

Once an identifier vouches for a traveler, the latter pays YR 500 for this “identification service.” This is the standard fee, even if the vouching includes the declaration that one or more persons aren't a threat.

One to three identifiers from different regions are stationed at each checkpoint to rule out non-suspects, despite what's on their ID cards.

There are three scenarios in this identification process: either the traveler is discovered not to be from Bani Hushaish or he's released to safely carry his goods home, wherever that may be. If the traveler is from Bani Hushaish but from the eastern part, he pays YR 500 for the identification service and then moves on, sometimes with his goods, but mostly without.

However, if a traveler is discovered to be from the western half where Houthis are, he's automatically taken into custody.

This new identification process sometimes takes time. If the identifier doesn't know the traveler, he'll ask whom in the area the traveler knows or about certain landmarks. If one is suspect, he's interrogated until finally proven safe or taken into custody on charges of being Houthi himself or pro-Houthi.

“People from eastern Bani Hushaish are known not to be involved with Houthis; hence, they're able to transport some of their foodstuffs into their villages. They generally travel via Khawlan Road, where many checkpoints use a Khawlani assistant who knows who's who,” explains Khalid Mohammed, a resident of Al-Sharafah district in eastern Bani Hushaish.

He further notes that only Bani Hushaish residents must pay the YR 500 fee, as those at the checkpoints recognize them as locals from the district.

On the other hand, security forces have increased their blockade against Bani Hushaish residents to prevent the entry of flour, fruits, vegetables and even animal fodder.

“I'm a major in the army and I participated in the first three wars in Sa'ada. However, I'm now surprised that a group of soldiers prevents me from delivering flour to feed my small children and family simply because I'm from Bani Hushaish,” the military official said, requesting anonymity.

Several district residents maintain that one village sheikh was forced to dump a bag of flour on the road when soldiers didn't allow him to take it to his village.

“The security forces are going too far, as they're preventing us from transporting fruit and animal fodder across the checkpoints. Do they think Houthis eat fodder or straw?!” asked one Bani Hushaish resident.

Female Houthis

According to security officials, Houthis previously have escaped by pretending to be women, disguising themselves under black abayas. Due to social conventions, these “women” would be allowed to pass without question or search. However, nowadays, female police officers are stationed at checkpoints to search women, while male personnel search men.

“A Houthi wife once was caught attempting to smuggle out of the area. She was carrying a gun discovered by policewomen, who then questioned her and learned that she was from the Houthi inhabited area,” explained a source, who was present at Bani Hushaish's western entry point about two weeks ago.

He continued, “We took her aside and advised her that it would be better for her and her family if she disclosed her husband's location or convinced him to surrender himself to the authorities.”

He said she was released after the local sheikh guaranteed her compliance. She returned home and actually convinced her husband to surrender, which he did, and he remains in custody to date.

According to the same source, numerous Houthi women are behind their husbands' surrender due to pressure from the government and seeking a safer life for their children.

Education and daily life disturbances

Schoolteachers from outside the district complain that they have difficulty entering these areas every day on their way to schools in western Bani Hushaish.

“Every time there's a new security official, we must go through the entire process of identifying ourselves again and our business in the district. They fear that every stranger might be a Houthi follower,” complains Mohammed Abdullah, a math teacher working in Bani Hushaish.

The problem is compounded by the fact that most teachers in rural areas don't have professional ID cards proving that they work at a particular school.

Because of their situation, students where clashes between Yemeni army troops and Houthi loyalists are occurring were given passing grades without taking exams, particularly as the clashes erupted again in May, which is the end of the academic year and just a month before exams.

Electricity and both land and mobile telephones also have been disconnected since the clashes began in early May. Residents' lives have been greatly disturbed because of this, particularly given that they use electrical pumps for irrigation and to draw drinking water from wells. They now are resorting to retrieving well water manually and only using it for domestic purposes.

Due to lack of electricity, refrigerators and water heaters also are inoperable and there are no working televisions, except those powered by generators, but then again, there's a problem obtaining fuel, as diesel is prohibited from the area, or if found, very expensive.