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Former President of Yemen is assassinated as regional tensions near breaking point
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Espionage, intrigue, terrorism, and constant power plays between factions and governments are too often hallmarks of the Middle East, but in Yemen the violence has reached crisis levels. Since a civil war broke out in the impoverished country two and a half years ago, more than 8,600 people have died and over 20 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, BBC reports.
In a significant turn of events, Ali Abdullah Saleh, former long-time president of Yemen, was killed this week while trying to escape fighting between current loyalists and former allies in the capital city of Sanaa. The prospect of peace in Yemen anytime soon is even dimmer– Saleh’s death likely will strengthen the Iranian-backed rebel Houthis and intensify the war.
Dragged Through the Streets
Saleh’s party, the General People’s Congress, confirmed that the former leader was killed by Houthis – a rebel group with whom the former president and his followers had maintained an alliance for several years against the Saudi-led coalition that backs the current Yemeni President Hadi.
On Saturday Saleh gave a speech breaking ties with the Houthis and “offered to ‘turn a new page‘ with the Saudi-led coalition if it stopped attacking Yemen and ended its crippling blockade of the country.” The BBC reports that the Houthis took this as a “coup” against “an alliance he never believed in”.
A source in the GPC gave limited details about what happened next:
The Houthis executed Saleh and maimed his body and this is against humanity, but the Houthis do not understand humanity.
A video shared on social media depicted the former president’s body being loaded into the back of a vehicle. Saleh had a catastrophic head wound as well as an apparent gunshot to the torso.
The Houthis said that they killed Saleh while he was trying to flee the capital for his home province of Marib, and hometown of Sanhan. They attacked the former president’s armored vehicle with rocket-propelled grenades, and once the vehicle was stopped, attackers shot Saleh multiple times, killing him.
Footage after his death showed the Houthis unwrapping a blanket containing the president’s body, shouting “praise God!” and “hey Ali Affash,” mocking Saleh with an alternate last name.
In Iran, the government supports the Houthi group, and its state-run media reported the death as a positive situation. Saudi channel al-Arabiya also announced Saleh’s death, as did U.S. media.
While Saleh’s supporters will likely be led by his nephew Tareq Mohammed Saleh, the Houthis are expected to continue pushing south, fighting Saleh’s loyalist forces and looking to control more Yemeni land.
According to analysts, Saleh’s death will likely intensify the situation in Yemen. Marcus Chevenix, a Middle East and North Africa analyst, told CNBC:
It’s generally bad news for Yemen and probably good news for Iran. I think we’ll see the step-up of Iranian involvement in Yemen now and it will become very intense.
Andreas Krieg, a political analyst at King’s College London, told Al Jazeera that the “short term in Yemen will be a state of insecurity worse than before. Saleh was an integrator. The Houthis killing him takes the glue out of the equation.”
Whether the Yemeni people will be able to drive the Houthis back to their northern origins or will lose more ground remains to be seen. The Houthis have made many enemies – including the Saudis and United Arab Emirates – and those enemies are engaging in air strikes against the nomadic fighters.
Saleh was 75 years old at the time of his murder.
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