25 Mar 2015

Yemen president’s location a mystery as battle rages

Mansour Hadi flees Aden palace as city looks set to fall to Houthi rebels, who say they will offer $93,000 to anyone who captures president and brings him to them

The offer of 20 million rials for the president’s capture was made on Yemen’s state broadcaster, now under the control of the Shia rebels.

It is not known where Hadi is, with some sources saying he has fled the country while others maintain he is still in the temporary capital of Aden.

What is known is that he is no longer in his palace, which reports said was being looted by local residents.

Gun battles took place around the city centre, while forces allied to the Houthis are said to have taken over an airbase close to the city.

The US state department said it was unable to provide any details about Hadi’s location.

“We were in touch with him earlier today,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at a briefing.

“He is no longer at his residence. I’m not in position to confirm any additional details from here about his location.”

She said Hadi had left the palace voluntarily.

Houthi fighters and allied military units had advanced to Dar Saad, a village a half-hour’s drive from central Aden, residents there said. Earlier, unidentified warplanes fired missiles at the Aden neighbourhood where Hadi’s compound is located, residents said. Anti-aircraft guns opened fire on the planes.

Yemen’s slide towards civil war has made the country a crucial front in mostly Sunni Saudi Arabia’s rivalry with Shia Iran, which Riyadh accuses of stirring up sectarian strife through its support for the Houthis.

US officials say Saudi Arabia is moving heavy military equipment including artillery to areas near its border with Yemen, raising the risk that the Middle East’s top oil power will be drawn into the worsening Yemeni conflict. Saudi sources insist the build-up, which also includes tanks, is purely defensive.

Yemeni officials denied reports that Hadi had fled Aden.

In the city, heavy traffic clogged the roads as parents brought schoolchildren home and public sector employees obeyed orders to leave work.

Eyewitnesses said pro-Hadi militiamen and tribal gunmen were out in force throughout the city.

“The war is imminent and there is no escape from it,” said 21-year-old Mohammed Ahmed, standing outside a security compound in Aden’s Khor Maksar district, where hundreds of young men had been signing up to fight the advancing Shia fighters.

“And we are ready for it.”