Yemen’s strongman Saleh killed by rebels as alliance collapses – World

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On Monday Yemeni rebels killed their erstwhile ally Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country’s former president and strongman, as their forces battled for control of the capital, Sanaa, officials said. The collapse of their alliance throws Yemen’s nearly three-year-old civil war into unpredictable new chaos.

The circumstances of Saleh’s death were unclear but Houthi officials said their forces caught up with him as he tried to flee Sanaa.

A video circulating online purported to show Saleh’s body, his eyes open but glassy, motionless with a gaping head wound, as he was being carried in a blanket by rebel fighters chanting “God is great,” who then dump him into a pickup truck. Blood stained his shirt under a dark suit.

It was a grisly end for a figure who was able to rule the impoverished and unstable country for more than three decades and remained a powerhouse even after he was ousted in a 2011 Arab Spring uprising. His death recalled another Arab leader killed in the midst of his own country’s uprising, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, whose body was shown in a video being abused by rebels who killed in him 2011.

Saleh’s death was announced by the rebels, known as Houthis, who have been fighting Saleh’s forces for the past week. It was confirmed by Saleh’s associates and by a third official from the government of Yemen’s internationally recongnized president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

“The leader of treason has been killed,” Houthis’ TV network al-Masriah said.

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Houthi fighters ride on the back of a truck amid clashes with forces loyal to Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, on Monday. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

Saleh allied with the Houthis, and the support of his loyalist military units was key to helping the Houthis overrun the capital, Sanaa, in 2014, driving out Hadi’s government. But in recent months, the alliance frayed amid Houthi suspicions Saleh was leaning toward the Saudi-led coalition backing Hadi.

Hadi’s forces, trying to take advantage of the collapse of the alliance, announced they would march on Sanaa.

Rebels gained upper hand

But even without Saleh’s loyalists, the rebels remain a powerful force and it is unclear how much the break with Saleh weakens them. Over the past year, the Houthis had steadily undermined Saleh and reduced their need for him, winning military commanders over to their side and boosting their own forces.

A major question now will be whether Saleh’s loyalists — and tribes that support him — can rally to fight the Houthis after his death.

Several Houthi military officials said Saleh was killed as he headed along with top party leaders from Sanaa to his hometown of Sanhan, nearby. Houthi fighters followed him in 20 armoured vehicles, attacked and killed him and almost all those with him, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

A Houthi media official, Abdel-Rahman al-Ahnomi told the Associated Press that Houthi fighters killed Saleh as he tried to flee to Saudi Arabia through the province of Marib, to the east of the capital.

‘It’s like horror movies. I have lived through many wars but nothing like this.’
– Bushra, Sanaa resident

The Saudi-led coalition had hoped that Saleh’s break with the Houthis would be a turning point, isolating the rebels. Over the past days, fighter jets from the Saudi-led coalition pounded Houthis positions, throwing support behind Saleh and fuelling divisions with Houthis. Hadi’s government had expressed willingness to turn “a new page” with whoever stands against the rebels.

The fighting left Sanaa divided. The Houthis dominate the northern part of the city, while Saleh’s forces hold 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.

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