Sunday,18 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)
Sunday,18 March, 2018
Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Al-Houthis and Al-Qaeda

The coming days may see a showdown between Al-Houthi rebels in Yemen and Al-Qaeda, writes Nasser Arrabyee in Sanaa

Al-Ahram Weekly

Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi ordered his government this week to do its utmost to stop an imminent conflict between Al-Houthi rebels in the oil-rich eastern province of Mareb and Al-Qaeda fighters.

The two sides have been mobilising thousands of fighters in two different places for about three months. A decisive battle seems to be pending between the two groups, locked in conflict since September last year in the provinces of Ibb, Al-Beidha, Dhammar and Hodeidah. Al-Houthis have so far always been the victors.

Al-Qaeda fighters retaliated by carrying out suicide bombings in areas under Al-Houthi control. More than 41 people were killed and 77 injured last week at the gates of the country’s Police Academy in Sanaa, controlled by Al-Houthi rebels.

In order to try to avoid a devastating conflict in the important Mareb province, home to oil, gas and electricity plants, a committee was set up on 12 January under the chairmanship of the ministers of the defence and the interior, Mahmoud Subaihi and Jalal Ruwaishan.

A day before the committee was formed, Al-Houthis, in a letter to President Hadi, threatened to take control of Mareb if fighters loyal to Al-Qaeda and takfiri movements did not stop campaigning in the province.

Al-Qaeda fighters, along with thousands of tribesmen loyal to the Sunni Islamic party Al-Islah (the Yemen Muslim Brotherhood), have been camping out in Al-Suhail, Al-Nakhla and Lebenat in the Mareb desert.

They are armed with medium-sized weapons and have been there since last October, when Al-Houthis invaded the capital Sanaa and started fighting Al-Qaeda forces in the areas of Radaa, Beidha and Ibb.

Al-Houthis have been receiving support from army and security units and commanders loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

They have also been receiving support from people who distrust Al-Islah Party.

Among those targeted by Al-Houthis are Ali Muhsen, who escaped to Saudi Arabia after Al-Houthis took control of his military base, his properties in Sanaa and elsewhere, tribal leader and billionaire Hamid Al-Ahmar, who has escaped to Turkey, and religious leader Abdel-Majid Al-Zandani, believed to be in Mareb as he cannot travel outside Yemen having been declared an international terrorist by the US and UN.

For political reasons, and to gain support inside and outside Yemen, some leaders of the tribesmen camping out in Mareb have been waiting for a showdown and deny both the presence of Al-Qaeda in the area and that they are affiliated with Al-Islah Party.

Tribal leader Mabkhoot Al-Sharif, head of Al-Islah Party in Mareb, told reporters on Monday that there were no Al-Qaeda forces in Mareb or in the tribal camps.

“We are tribesmen from Mareb, and we are here to defend Mareb from Al-Houthi invasion,” he said. “We are 30,000 fighters from the Murad, Al-Jadaan, Abeidah, and Bani Jabr tribes. Mareb will be the cemetery of Al-Houthis.”

Al-Sharif’s son was killed while fighting Al-Qaeda in Zinjubar, the capital of Abyan in southern Yemen, in 2012.

“If Al-Houthis defeat us as a result of a conspiracy like what happened in Sanaa, then we will not leave anything standing for them,” Al-Sharif said, making an apparent reference to Mareb’s oil, gas and electricity installations.

Al-Sharif said that Mareb tribesmen had heavy weapons bought on the black market or plundered from the army. “We will return the heavy weapons to the state if Al-Houthis return the heavy weapons they have plundered,” Al-Sharif said.

Al-Houthi fighters are presently camping out in Al-Mahjazah, Huraib Serwah in Mareb and at Al-Jawf crossing.

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