Houthis’ second-in-command killed in Saudi-led coalition air strike

The targeting of Sammad indicates that the coalition’s intelligence capabilities are improving.
Sunday 29/04/2018
A file photo of Major-General Tariq Saleh, a nephew of former Yemeni leader Ali  Abdullah Saleh, at the Republican Palace in Sana’a. (Reuters)
Returning to battle. A file photo of Major-General Tariq Saleh, a nephew of former Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, at the Republican Palace in Sana’a. (Reuters)

LONDON - A Saudi-led coalition air strike killed dozens of Iran-allied Houthi rebels, including two commanders, dealing the group a new blow following the assassination of their political chief.

The Houthi militia on April 28 had a public funeral for Saleh al-Sammad, head of their Supreme Political Council and effectively the Houthis’ second-in-command. Sammad and six members of his entourage were killed April 19 in an attack on the port city of Hodeidah.

The funeral was hours after Saudi Arabia’s state-run Al-Ekhbariya television said two high-ranking insurgents were among more than 50 Houthis killed in a new strike on Sana’a.

Since the start of the war in 2015, Sammad had been the Saudi-led coalition’s second most wanted Houthi leader because of his ability to broker alliances with Yemen’s tribes. The Saudis offered $20 million for information leading to Sammad’s capture.

Sammad was instrumental in establishing an alliance with the late Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) when the conflict began. The Houthis turned on Saleh and killed him last December, however, after he said he was open to turning “a new page” with the Saudi-led coalition.

Analysts said the targeting of Sammad indicated that prospects for a political solution were deteriorating and the coalition’s intelligence capabilities were improving.

“There is no other option at this stage,” Mustafa Alani, analyst at the Gulf Research Centre, told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “The Houthis are not flexible on the political settlement and — people are not noticing — there is real progress on the ground for the coalition.”

“This is certainly a key setback,” said Adam Baron of the European Council on Foreign Relations to AFP. “With regards to targeting Houthi leaders, it represents the biggest hit for the coalition so far and suggests their intelligence capabilities are improving.”

Rajih Badi, spokesman for the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, described Sammad’s death as “a huge blow” for the rebels and said Sammad’s announced successor, Mahdi al-Mashat, was “a poor choice.”

“Whoever knows Mashat through talks, knows that he is a weak personality, very young and without any experience. This confirms that Abdelmalik al-Houthi only appoints personalities very close to him, due to internal relations. As you know, he was Abdelmalik’s office manager. The third indication is that he is from Saada,” Badi told the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel.

In other developments in Yemen, forces loyal to Major-General Tariq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, nephew of the former Yemeni president, said they would join forces with the Saudi-led coalition.

Sources told Reuters that Saleh led thousands of soldiers, including former members of Yemen’s Republican Guards, the paramilitary Central Security Forces and other elite troops, backed by coalition forces, in a battle against the Houthis in the Red Sea port of Mocha on the day Sammad was killed.

Despite fighting with the coalition, Saleh and his troops are not under the umbrella of the internationally recognised government of Hadi, a point likely to become an issue of contention.

Yemen’s Aden al-Ghad news website reported that former Yemeni Culture Minister Khalid al-Ruwaishan urged Saleh to recognise the legitimacy of Hadi’s government.

Ruwaishan said Saleh had every right to fight the Iran-allied rebels “because he has [personal] motives and has the means” but that it had to be done within “the framework of legitimacy and in coordination with the government.”