17 Jan 2015

Yemeni president’s chief of staff abducted by Houthi militia

Armed Shia militants belonging to Yemen’s Houthi movement have seized Yemeni President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s chief of staff in the capital city Sanaa.

According to police sources Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak was on his way to attend a meeting to discuss a new draft of the constitution before he was seized along with two of his bodyguards.

Yemen’s Houthi movement, an armed paramilitary organisation representing the country’s Zaydi sect of Shia Islam, seized control of Sanaa in September 2014.

They have been demanding greater political rights and have recently continued to advance into predominately Sunni parts of central and western Yemen.

Sunni Shia tensions in Yemen

Mubarak is a senior Yemeni politician who was designated prime minister of Yemen in October 2014 despite Houthi opposition to his nomination, but he later declined the post.

Following the news of Mubarak’s abduction, the Houthi movement pulled out of scheduled talks with the country’s other main political and regional factions on a new constitution. This incident comes following a series of high-profile AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) attacks against Shia targets threatening to further destabilise the country.

Yemen has been plagued by political instability since mass demonstrations toppled former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s government in 2012.

Scores of people have already been killed in 2015 by AQAP attacks and clashes between the Houthis and Sunni militants and tribesmen. Al-Qaeda’s role in Yemen has been further highlighted following their recent claim of responsibility for last week’s attack on the Charlie Hebdo Magazine offices in Paris by Chérif Kouachi and Saïd Kouachi, who had been members of the organisation.

Houthi figures have recently denounced leaked details of the constitution draft, aimed at easing power transition, which President Hadi has said will ensure the country does not fragment into two regions based on the former states or north and south Yemen.

Details of the constitution draft were recently leaked Yemeni media and indicated plans for a federal state divided into six regions. The draft constitution has allegedly been rejected by the Houthis and southern separatists who believe the plans will weaken their share of power.

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party, the General People’s Congress, also walked out of Saturday’s meeting on the draft of the constitution.