Ali Abdullah Saleh killed in Yemen by Iran-backed Houthi rebels

 In U.S.
SANAA, Yemen — Hours after Saudi Arabia threw its support behind former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was once allied with the country’s Houthi rebels, those rebels announced that they had killed Saleh and said the country’s war-torn capital was united under their Iranian-backed insurgency.

In messages posted online, Yemen’s Interior Ministry, which is run by the Houthis, said Saleh had been killed in fighting in Sanaa, and posted video purportedly showing his dead body in the back of a truck, with a gunshot wound to the head.

Officials from various sides, including the Houthis’ opponents, have confirmed that the video shows the former powerful president. 

Abdel-Rahman al-Ahnomi, a top Houthi media official, told The Associated Press that Saleh was killed near Marib, the eastern province bordering Saudi Arabia. “He was trying to flee to Saudi,” he said.

Outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks to the press at the presidential palace in Sanaa on January 22, 2012.

AFP/Getty Images

The video, apparently shot by one of the attackers, showed a Houthi crowd picking up Saleh’s dead body, wrapped in a colorful blanket, off the ground and lifting it onto a pickup truck. Saleh’s eyes appear wide open, the back of his head badly injured, and his shirt blood stained under a dark suit. 

A senior Yemeni government official affiliated with Houthis’ rivals and some of Saleh’s associates, such as Nabil al-Soufi and Ali al-Bukhiti, confirmed his death on social media and TV interviews.

Fighting erupted between the Iranian-allied Shiite Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Saleh last week. The breakdown of the fragile alliance has led the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition to step up its bombing of Houthi positions, in support of Saleh’s forces, in a major realignment that leaves the rebels increasingly isolated after three years of war.

Saleh’s apparent killing — yet to be verified by Saleh’s own backers or the international coalition — came as Saudi jets pounded Houthi positions in the capital.

Tribes who supported Saleh have tried to assert control over their areas across the city, while the internationally recognized president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has ordered his Saudi-allied forces to march north toward the capital.

Yemenis huddled in basements across Sanaa overnight as airstrikes echoed across the city. Suze van Meegen, Sanaa-based protection and advocacy adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said the violence left aid workers trapped inside their homes and was “completely paralyzing humanitarian operations.”

“No one is safe in Sanaa at the moment. I can hear heavy shelling outside now and know it is too imprecise and too pervasive to guarantee that any of us are safe,” she said.

“The night was tough,” Robert Mardini, the regional director of the International Committee of the Red Cross, posted on his Twitter account. “Massive urban clashes with heavy artillery and airstrikes. Yemenis stuck in their homes, too scared to go out. Reduced access to water, health care, food and fuel.”

The Houthis and forces allied to Saleh swept into the capital, Sanaa, in 2014. The Houthis dominated the northern part of the city, while Saleh’s forces held the southern part, with much of the current fighting concentrated around the Political District, home to ministries and foreign embassies. The Houthis appeared to be targeting the homes of Saleh’s family, political allies and commanders.

Civilians living in the area are largely cut off from the outside world.

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