MS Risk Blog

US, French and UK embassies evacuate Yemen

Posted on in Britian, France, United States, Yemen title_rule

12 February– Early on Wednesday after announcing their official takeover of the country, Shiite Houthi rebels attacked several anti-Houthi demonstrations. Later in the day, thousands of Houthi supporters marched through the capital shouting “Death to America, Death to Israel.” Amid the escalating violence, the US, British and French embassies have closed. The French and British embassies have encouraged all nationals to leave the country immediately. The US State Department currently has no plans to conduct a government-sponsored evacuation, but they have urged US citizens to maintain extreme caution amid an ongoing risk of kidnapping.

The Houthis captured large parts of Sanaa in September, however the embassies remained open. The closures today signal that the security situation has deteriorated significantly and is unlikely to change. Some analysts have indicated that Yemen is likely to slide into civil war.

Following the departure of American staff, Houthi rebels seized over 25 US Embassy vehicles in Sanaa. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said that although several vehicles were left behind, security forces destroyed heavier weapons before departing the US embassy for a commercial flight out of Yemen. In addition, embassy staff destroyed files and documents. Conflicting reports have emerged that the militiamen harassed US diplomatic personnel and confiscated their vehicles and side arms at the airport.

A small contingency of US military personnel that was not assigned to the embassy remain behind.  The closure will not impact counter-terrorism operations against al Qaeda’s Yemen branch, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The branch is considered the most dangerous and active in the AQ network.

Yemen has been in crisis for months. Last week, fighters led by Abdel-Malek al-Houthi dissolved parliament and claimed formal control of the government. Weeks earlier, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi resigned and has reportedly since been under house arrest. Al-Houthi has repeatedly warned against foreign intervention, saying, “We will not accept pressures. They are of no use. Whoever harms the interest of this country could see that their interests in this country are also harmed.”

About the Houthis

The Houthis stem from a minority branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism (Zaydism). Zaidis comprise approximately a third of Yemen’s population, and ruled north Yemen for nearly a millennia until 1962, when a coup d’état carried out by Abdullah as-Sallal, successfully dethroned Imam Muhammad al-Badr, who was the newly crowned king of Yemen. Sallal and declared Yemen a republic and became its first president.

North and South Yemen unified in 1990 under its first president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Fearing a threat to their religious and cultural traditions, a portion of the Zaidis formed a rebel group known as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God). The group were led by Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, a former member of the Yemeni parliament for the Al-Haqq Islamic party between 1993 and 1997. The rebels sought to win greater autonomy for the Saada province. Houthi led the first uprising in June of 2004, but was found and killed by Yemeni security forces in September of that year.  After Hussein’s passing, his family took up the mantle, and the Houthis took on the name of their leader. The Houthis conducted five further rebellions until a ceasefire agreement was signed with the Yemeni government in 2010. During the 2011 Arab Spring, the Houthis joined the protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. When Saleh stepped down in 2012, the Houthis quickly used the power vacuum to expand control over the Saadi province, and neighbouring Amran province.

The Houthis claim that the Yemeni people were dissatisfied and under-represented within the government, which they feel is dominated by members of the old regime.

Critics say the Houthis are a proxy for Shia dominated Iran, which the rebels and Iran deny. Former president Saleh has been accused by the US of backing the Houthis’ takeover of Sanaa “to not only delegitimize the central government, but also create enough instability to stage a coup”. In November, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on him and two senior Houthi leaders. The UN said the leaders were threatening Yemen’s peace and stability and obstructing the political process.


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