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Hothi / Houthi / Huthi
al-Shabab al-Mum'en / Shabab al-Moumineen (Believing Youth)

Yemen's government faces a persistent rebellion by Shiite tribesmen. The Houthis have led a campaign calling for the replacement of the government and economic reforms. Yemen's Sunni-majority government has accused them of being a proxy for Iran, blaming the mainly Shi'ite nation for sparking the unrest.

They are followers of cleric Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houti (Husain al-Huthi), who was killed in September 2004, after months of battles with Yemeni security forces. Sheik al-Houti, a one-time political aspirant in Yemen, had wide religious and tribal backing in Yemen, particularly in Yemen's northern mountains. Hussein al-Houthi was a former member of parliament for the pro-monarchy al-Haqq (Truth) Islamic party. The government of Yemen accused Hothi of setting up unlicensed religious centers.

The Houthis are a group of combatants associated with the Zaydi Revivalist movement in Yemen, which emerged as a result of deep-seated frustrations among those tribes who felt as though they had become marginalized after an Egyptian-backed revolution against the Zaydi Imam in 1962 brought an end to Hashemite domination. Led by Badr al-Din al-Houthi and later by his son Hussein al-Houthi, the revivalists that spawned the Houthi presence promoted religious and local identity over national priorities. There was a resentfulness of the central governments tolerance of growing Sunni Wahabi influence and its policy of concentrating investment in infrastructure and services on Sanaa and areas with economic resources, to the exclusion of the rest of the country, and in particular the Saada-Amran-Hajja area.

The Houthis surprisingly avoided assuming a singular tribal identity, which is significant given the country is dominated by tribal allegiances. Instead, the group strategically drew support from tribes of the northern Bakil federation, rival to the Hashid federation which had been a traditional ally of the central government. The Houthis lacked both a political program and a centralised command structure, with varying degrees of coordination applying across four constituent groups: an ideological core with symbolic or political ties to Iran and an anti-Western posture; those driven by concern for Zaydi and Hashemite identity; groups of armed men whose main interest is money; and a majority, tribesmen defending their families and villages against state violence. These trends allowed them to generate immense support, as Yemenis from diverse backgrounds have joined their cause.

Sheik al-Houti, a Zaidi religious leader, headed an armed group called the Believing Youth. The group led protests against the United States and Israel at mosques. Al-Houti's followers said Yemen's government had become too closely allied with the United States. During the main weekly prayers each Friday, al-Houthi's followers used to chant slogans against Israel and the United States. Yemen's government said the group was modeled on the Lebanese Hizbollah, and that it sought to re-establish a monarchy in Yemen by force. Al-Houti was accused of trying to set himself up as Imam. Hizbollah in Lebanon denied any links with the rebels in Saddah, though some thought the Iranian-backed insurgents were linked.

Yemen had a total area of approximately 328,080 square miles, and its population was approximately 20 million. Virtually all citizens were Muslims, belonging either to the Zaydi order of Shi'a Islam or to the Shafa'i order of Sunni Islam, representing approximately 30 percent and 70 percent of the total population, respectively. The Shia Zaidi sect were found in the north and northwest, and the Shafa'i school of Sunni Muslims were found in the south and southeast. There also were a few thousand Ismaili Muslims, mostly in the north.

The Zaidi Shia sect was founded about 1,000 years ago. Yemen had not had an imam since the Zaidi Imam Hamid al-Din was overthrown as ruler in 1962. Some Zaidi Shia clerics dismissed al-Houti's rebellion as only a "fitnah (disturbance) among Yemeni Muslims. The clashes with Sheik al-Houti's followeres were in the Marran mountains of Saddah area. Saddah, about 150km north of capital Sana'a and close to the border with Saudi Arabia, was the main centre of the Zaidi Shia sect.

Yemen was one of the oldest centers of civilization in the Near East. Between the 12th century BC and the 6th century AD, it was part of the Minaean, Sabaean, and Himyarite kingdoms, which controlled the lucrative spice trade, and later came under Ethiopian and Persian rule. In the 7th century AD, Islamic caliphs began to exert control over the area. After this caliphate broke up, the former north Yemen came under control of Imams of various dynasties usually of the Zaidi sect, who established a theocratic political structure that survived until modern times. Imam is a religious term. The Shi'ites apply it to the prophet Muhammad's son-in-law Ali, his sons Hassan and Hussein, and subsequent lineal descendants, whom they consider to have been divinely ordained unclassified successors of the prophet.

North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. The British, who had set up a protectorate area around the southern port of Aden in the 19th century, withdrew in 1967 from what became South Yemen. Three years later, the southern government adopted a Marxist orientation. The massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis from the south to the north contributed to 2 decades of hostility between the states. The 2 countries were formally unified as the Republic of Yemen in 1990. A southern secessionist movement in 1994 was quickly subdued.

Yemen had long had a reputation of lawlessness and militancy. In December 1998, a group of western tourists, including 2 Americans, were kidnapped by terrorists in Yemen. Four hostages were killed and one American hostage wounded when Yemeni security forces attempted a rescue operation. In 2000, 17 sailors were killed and 39 injured when a US Naval ship, the USS Cole, was bombed in the port of Aden in Yemen. In October 2002, there was an attack on the French oil supertanker Limburg off Yemen.

Tribal violence had resulted in a number of killings and other abuses, and the Government's ability to control tribal elements remained limited. Tensions, which periodically escalated into violent confrontations, continued between the Government and some tribes. In several cases, long-standing tribal disputes were resolved through government-supported mediation by non-governmental actors.

During the ongoing internal conflict that began in 2004, the government used heavy force in an attempt to suppress the al-Houthi rebels in Saada governorate. In August 2004 Yemeni warplanes and artillery pounded mountain hideouts of Sheik al-Houti and his followers. The major offensive aimed at ending a 7-week conflict that had killed at least 500 people since the conflict began on 18 June 2004. Government troops took control of locations in the Jabal Maraan mountains, outside the northern town of Sa'dah, where followers of Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houti were holed up.

The government offered a $55,000 reward for the capture of Sheik al-Houti, accusing him of sedition. On 10 September 2004, government troops killed Hussein Badruddin Al-Houthi, his brother and 20 of their followers in the Marran district north of Sanaa, Yemen's capital. His death came after 3 months of fighting between his followers and government forces in north Yemen.

The Government offered an olive branch to the Islamist opposition. A joint communiqu from the country's Defense and Interior Ministries urged Yemeni clerics to avoid incitement, "shun all types of extremism," and to "take part in developing the country." Numerous cease-fires and mediation attempts failed to end the conflict.

The Government prevented the media from fully conveying the extent of casualties on both sides, as well as the collateral damage. Estimates of civilian deaths ranged from 500 to 1,000, according to Amnesty International. Opposition media and political leaders claimed the Government used excessive force in suppressing the rebellion. Security forces conducted mass arrests in Sa'da Province, as a result of the June conflict. Some Al-Houthi supporters captured during the conflict remained in detention at year's end. Amnesty International reported that those arrested have been detained incommunicado. There were no trials held by year's end.

Fighting resumed late on 1 April 2005 in the northern area of Nishour, after rebels tried to attack an army camp. Ten soldiers and 6 rebels died in the battle. Clashes spread close to Saada province the next day, killing at least 20 rebels.

Government troops worked to put down this resumption of violence by al-Houti's followers, in fighting that tribal sources say killed 250 people on both sides in the first 2 weeks of fighting. The army brought in artillery to pound the brick compounds that the rebels were holding out in. Opposition media reports said that the fighting on 13 April 2005 left 120 deaths and injuries among the rebels.

Abdullah Ayedh al-Razami, Yusuf Madani (who had recently married one of Hussein al-Houthi's daughters), and Houthi's brother Abdul Malak, were leading the rebels on the ground, while al-Houthi's father, the 86-year old Badr Eddin al-Houti, had taken the role of spiritual leader. On 12 April 2005, Yemeni sources reported that authorities had killed Abdullah Izza Al Razami, the Number 2 member of the Believing Youth. Al Razami at the time was said to have died in a battle near the Yemeni-Saudi border during what appeared to be an attempt to flee Yemen. Al Razami had in fact survived.

On 8 April 2005, the Department of State warned US citizens to defer non-essential travel to Yemen. The security threat to all US citizens in Yemen remained high due to terrorist activities in Yemen. The Department was concerned about possible attacks by extremist individuals or groups against US citizens, facilities, businesses and perceived interests and therefore authorized the voluntary departure from Yemen of non-emergency personnel and eligible family members.

Abdullah Razami, the military leader of the Believing Youth, surrendered on 23 June 2005, after tribal mediators worked out a deal with the government. The terms of the deal were said to include a cessation of hostilities in return for amnesty for members of the organization.

On 2 August 2005, the government announced that 36 suspected terrorists tied al-Houthi and the Believing Youth would stand trial for plotting to cause rioting in Sanaa.

On 4 March 2006, the Yemeni government released 627 al-Houthi followers from custody. The rebels had to sign a "convenant of loyalty and good conduct" to secure their release. Not included in the amnesty were the 36 aforementioned terrorists standing trial for a riot in Sanaa.

The Yemeni government announced on 23 September 2006 that President Saleh won relection for another 7-year term with 77 percent of the vote. International monitors described the election as "an open and genuine political contest."

By 2007, the fragile ceasefire between the Government and al-Houthi rebels in Saada Governorate began to break apart. The Government maintained that the al-Houthis were adherents of Twelver Shi'ism, a variant of Shi'ism that differed from that of the country's predominant Zaydi-Shi'a. The al-Houthis followed the late rebel cleric Hussein Badr Eddine al-Houthi, who was killed during a 10-week rebellion that he led in 2004 against the Government in Saada. Some Zaydis continued to report harassment and discrimination by the Government because they were suspected of sympathizing with the al-Houthis. Human rights groups reported that hundreds of Zaydis remained in jail because of their religious affiliation and without any connection to the fighting. However, it appeared the Government's actions against the group were politically, not religiously, motivated.

In May 2008, the conflict spread for the first time beyond Saada to Bani Hushaish, a village on the outskirts of the capital. Both sides agreed to a fragile ceasefire in July 2008. Although total deaths resulting from the conflict during 2008 were unknown, an estimated 1,000 government troops were killed and 3,000 wounded in the month of May 2008 alone. No reliable estimates for the number of rebel or civilian deaths were available.

After 13 months of relative quiet, the sixth round of the conflict began in August 2009 with fighting and internally displaced persons (IDPs) spreading across 4 governorates in the north of the country. The government waged an extensive campaign of aerial bombardment in the Saada and Amran governorates, destroying many villages and killing hundreds of civilians, according to press reports. Saudi Arabia joined the fighting in November 2009 and continued to participate at year's end. Although the toll of the conflict during the year was unknown, journalists estimated at year's end that hundreds of government troops had been killed and thousands wounded. The number of rebel deaths reportedly was in the hundreds.

In 2009 the Government was actively enlisting Hashid-affiliated tribes on its behalf, but other tribes threwn their support behind the Houthis, for several reasons. First, they shared similar anti-government sentiments, even if they did not share their ideology. Second, they supported the Houthis out of anger at the destruction and loss of life caused by the Government's attacks on civilian population centers during this and previous rounds of fighting. For example, in the village of al-Adi in Harf Sufyan district (Amran governorate), where the Government bombed an IDP camp and reportedly killed 87 civilians (reftel), some of the victims belonged to a tribe that had sent 50 tribesmen to fight with the army against the Houthis. The mobilized fighters' leader was dismayed that the government attacked its own supporters. Bakil tribal leaders were outraged at the needless loss of life, as the victims were mostly women and children. Third, Houthis helped resolve conflicts between tribes and reduce the number of revenge killings in areas they control. By administering conflict resolution based on shari'a (Islamic) law, what the Houthis did was bring peace between the tribes in certain areas. President Saleh was known for doing the opposite - creating divisions between tribes in order to stay in power. The Sufyan tribe in Amran governorate, which had among the highest rates of revenge killings in Yemen, largely supported the Houthis because of their role in resolving disputes that typically led to such killings. In 2010, after the Saudi Arabian military intervened in support of the Yemeni government, the fighting finally died down. In January 2010, Shi'ite leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi said he was ready to agree to a cease-fire with the government. The government offered the rebels a permanent cease-fire in September 2009 as long as they agreed to withdraw from the region, end attacks, and stop interfering in local government. The government and rebel forces agreed to the cease-fire on 11 February 2010. Optimism was expressed by both parties as it seemed as though the peace would last. The last cease-fire that was agreed to in September 2009 lasted less than 2 hours in duration.

On 19 March 2010, the Yemen government officially declared that the war with the Shi'ite rebels was over. This declaration underwent scrutiny because all attempts at peace previously had failed. The peace accord took a hit when northern rebels opened fire on a military plane that was flying over the city of Saada on 16 April 2006. The plane itself took no hits, and there were no casualties reported. The Houthi rebels denied the claim that they were responsible for the attack.

In May 2010, Houthi rebels occupied many schools in northern Yemen as a result of the government not releasing detained rebels, which was a part of the cease-fire agreement. Both sides accused the other of not adhering to the agreement. Nearing the end of the month, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced on 24 May 2010 that amnesty was to be granted to all detainees.

Fighting between the Yemen government and the northern rebel forces flared up again in June 2010 after fatal clashes broke out between Houthi gunmen and pro-government tribesmen in Bani Awair area of northern Saada governorate. The government stated that since the Houthi rebels were not upholding their end of the cease-fire agreement, more fighting would ensue. On 22 June 2010, Houthi rebels accused the government of not following through with the amnesty offer, in which fewer than 800 of 3,000 detainees were released.

As of July 2010, the situation in northern Yemen remained volatile 5 months after the signing of a ceasefire between Government forces and rebels. The majority of the IDPs had not returned to their homes. Many were living with host communities or in scattered settlements outside formal camp sites.

Reports in 2012 from an NGO also indicated a pattern of abuse by Houthis in the northern governorates of Saada, Amran, and al-Jawf. The NGO reported that the Houthis disrupted the provision of humanitarian assistance to nonsupporters. International relief organizations confirmed that humanitarian assistance projects could not operate in areas under Houthi control without Houthi permission and sometimes requirements that Houthi staff be hired. Several reports stated that persons in these areas not aligned with the Houthis faced difficulties receiving humanitarian assistance. In addition, some human rights NGOs reported that Houthis detained opponents in schools under their control.

Armed clashes broke out in northern governorates during 2012, including Saada, al-Jawf, and Amran, between supporters of the Zaydi Shia Houthi movement and supporters of the largely Sunni members of the Islah Party. Attacks between the groups resulted in the deaths of many combatants and bystanders, according to media and local NGO reports. The fighting went largely unchecked as central government control in those areas was weak. On 25 May 2012, the press reported that a bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a school during Friday prayers in al-Jawf Province and killed at least 12 persons. Given the lack of foreign press and NGO presence in that region, data concerning deaths and other details of this conflict were unverifiable. However, Saada residents reported that the clashes resulted in dozens, possibly hundreds, of deaths throughout the year.

Yemen's president accused Iran of provoking current unrest in his country as Shi'ite Houthi rebels advanced on the capital Sana'a in late August 2014. Yemen's President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi claimed in a statement that Iran was trying to trade Sana'a for the Syrian capital, Damascus, a reference to Iranian support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war. Rebel leader Abdel Malik al Houthi demanded this week that the government resign and a new government be appointed. He also insisted that the government back down on a recent decision to raise fuel prices. The Houthi rebels were trying to assert themselves as the most powerful political force in Yemen. Their main goal is to ensure that they control the policy making of Yemen. It is not a secret that the Iranians have been helping the Houthis for years.

The Houthis held protests outside government buildings and on the outskirts of the capital for nearly a month. They demanded the appointment of a new government and territorial concessions for their northern enclave, including a possible port on the Red Sea. Rebel advances in several places prompted the closure of the capital's main airport on 18 September 2014, and most phone and Internet service wasn cut. Houthi rebels attacked Yemeni government forces in parts of the capital, Sana'a, paralyzing traffic and forcing residents to remain indoors for hours. The rebels fired mortar rounds at the government TV station, disrupting its broadcasts. More than 40 people were killed in clashes overnight as rebel Houthi gunmen took over police and military patrol points in several parts of the city.




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