Houthis seize special forces base in Sanaa, kill at least ten

Published February 25th, 2015 - 01:03 GMT

Armed men from Yemen's Houthi group took over a special forces army base in the capital Sanaa early on Wednesday, soldiers there said.

The clashes, which lasted around six hours, started late on Tuesday when Houthis shelled the camp with heavy weapons, soldiers from the camp said. At least ten people were killed.

The troops had been trained and equipped by the United States as an elite counter-terrorism unit during the rule of ousted dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was toppled by protests in 2011.

Houthi militiamen seized Sanaa in September, eventually leading President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee to Aden this week where he seeks to set up a rival center of power.

Hadi is a key US ally in the fight against al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), having allowed Washington to conduct a longstanding drone war against the group on its territory.

The US military trained and kitted out Yemeni soldiers under Saleh, and under Hadi the CIA had stepped up drone strikes aimed at killing suspected militants.

US officials have expressed concern that the rule of the Houthis will harm their counter-terrorism efforts in a country that shares a long border with oil-rich Saudi Arabia. However, the US has not ceased its drone strikes in the impoverished country.

Yemen's Gulf Arab neighbors have decried the Houthis takeover as a coup, and the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Abdullatif al-Zayyani arrived in Aden to meet Hadi on Wednesday, political sources there said.

On Tuesday, the Houthis said that Hadi had lost his legitimacy as head of state and was being sought as a fugitive from justice.

After Houthis stormed Sanaa in September and tightened their grip on official government, Western-backed Hadi and his Prime Minister Khaled Bahah tendered their resignations on January 22.

The Houthis dissolved parliament and installed a "transitional council" to run Yemen on February 6, sparking security concerns that saw several Arab and Western countries close their embassies and evacuate diplomats.

Among the countries that have closed their embassies and pulled out their staff are Britain, France, Germany, Spain and the United States. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have taken similar action.

Yemen has fallen into turmoil since a 2012 uprising forced out autocratic president Saleh, who had been in power for 33 years, after a year of unrest. Following Saleh’s overthrow, the Houthis, al-Qaeda, separatists from the former independent South Yemen, and tribesmen have been fighting each other to gain power and territory in the fragile state.

France calls for release of abducted citizen

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a French woman working in Yemen was kidnapped in Sanaa.

The woman, a development worker on a project funded by the World Bank, was abducted on Tuesday morning, France's foreign ministry said, urging all French citizens "to leave the country as fast as possible."

A Yemeni security source said gunmen seized 30-year-old Isabelle Prime and her local guide from a taxi in downtown Sanaa. She worked for Ayala Consulting on a project funded by the World Bank to assist the Yemeni government's social welfare program.

"She was about to leave in the next few days," employer Francisco Ayala said.

Prime, her Yemeni colleague and their driver were riding down the main street in Sanaa en route to work when their car was stopped by men dressed as police officers, Ayala said.

"It seemed they moved around the city and eventually the driver was released after a few hours," he added.

"He was the one who gave us the alert and provided the information to the authorities."

The kidnappers wanted to free Prime's local female colleague as well, but it is understood she refused to leave Prime alone with her captors, Ayala said.

French President Francois Hollande called for her to be released "as soon as possible."

The World Bank said it was "deeply concerned" about their fate.

"There has been some contact" with the kidnappers, said Ayala, who had no details as the Yemeni interior ministry continues to deal with the case.

On Wednesday, relatives of Prime's Yemeni colleague said that they had sought help from tribal leaders and Houthi militiamen to secure their release.

"We contacted various tribal leaders in Sanaa and in the provinces of Jawf and Marib to ensure their cooperation for the release of the two women," Yassine Makkaoui, the uncle of the Yemeni abductee, said.

"We have also contacted, for the same reason, the interior ministry and the Houthis," he added.

"The kidnapping took place in broad daylight in the centre of Sanaa where the Houthis are responsible for maintaining order," Makkaoui said.

"They control both the ministries of defense and interior, and we hold them responsible" for the fate of the two women, he added.

(AFP, Reuters, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

© Al-Akhbar. All rights reserved

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