Yemen has a long and destructive history of political assassinations

The killing of Yemeni photojournalist Nabil Hasan al-Quaety is only the latest episode.
Thursday 11/06/2020
A mourner stands with an old identification document and posters showing the face of Yemeni journalist Nabil Hasan al-Quaety, killed in Aden, with text in Arabic reading: “You lived proudly and died a martyr”. (AFP)
A mourner stands with an old identification document and posters showing the face of Yemeni journalist Nabil Hasan al-Quaety, killed in Aden, with text in Arabic reading: “You lived proudly and died a martyr”. (AFP)

The recent killing of Yemeni photojournalist Nabil Hasan al-Quaety by unidentified gunmen in Aden sheds light on a long and complex history of unresolved political assassinations in Yemen.

ADEN - The recent killing of Yemeni photojournalist Nabil Hasan al-Quaety by unidentified gunmen in Aden sheds light on a long and complex history of unresolved political assassinations in Yemen.

The killing of al-Quaety, who was internationally acclaimed for providing objective coverage from various battlefronts, coincided with the ninth anniversary of an assassination attempt on former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was targeted at a mosque where he and other prominent government members were praying.

Yemeni journalist and researcher Ahmed Abbas said that Yemen began to see assassinations after the eruption of local and regional conflicts decades ago.

"The most prominent way to get rid of rivals was to physically eliminate them, which was an option taken by all warring sides,” he said.

According to Yemeni researchers, assassinations began to increase following the announcement of the unification of Yemen in 1990, after which political players used their religious ideologies to justify violence against rivals. Most of the victims at the time were leaders and senior officials of the Yemeni Socialist Party.

Those assassinations fueled anger between the socialists and the pro-union northern groups. This was an important factor leading to the first Yemeni civil war in the summer of 1994.

As political tension escalated in Yemen, assassinations increased. The killing of left-wing Yemeni politician Jarallah Omar as he delivered a speech at an Islah party conference in 2002 was an early indication of a growing wave of violence.

Among the most prominent figures to later be assassinated were Yahya al-Mutawakkil and Mujahid Abu Shawareb, both of whom died in killings made to appear as car accidents. Some parties also speculated that journalists Abdulaziz al-Saqqaf and Abdullah Saad were killed for political purposes.

When political tension increased between Yemen’s late President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) in 2006, media outlets close to each side reported news of failed assassination attempts.

After "Arab spring" protests reached Yemen, the country was shook by the assassination attempt on Saleh on June 3, 2011.

The Yemeni president was seriously injured and taken to Riyadh for treatment, while a number of his close associates were wounded and killed, most notably Abdulaziz Abdul Ghani, who was the president of the Consultative Council (Shura Council).

The media accused the Yemeni Rally for Reform (Islah) party of recruiting members of the Presidential Guard to carry out the bombing.

Esam Doweid, who was responsible for supervising the protection detail of Saleh and one of the wounded in this incident, told The Arab Weekly on the ninth anniversary of the attack on Saleh and his entourage that the incident was really an effort to undermine state security.

“It targeted all Yemeni people. What is happening today in Yemen is only a consequence of that event," he added

Political assassinations after 2011 became even more common. A number of Yemeni politicians affiliated with the Houthis were assassinated as the country hosted the National Dialogue Conference, including Abdul Karim Jadban, Abdul Karim Al-Khaiwani and Ahmed Sharaf Al-Din. Then in November 2014, politician Muhammad Abdul-Malik was assassinated by a terror cell affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Arhab district north of Sana’a, authorities announced.

A second assassination attempt on Saleh was also revealed at the time. The perpetrators planned to reach the former president through a tunnel that had been dug under his house in Sana’a. The pro-Iran Houthi militias were accused of involvement.

In 2017, more concern grew over political assassinations after investigative journalist Mohammed Abdo Al-Absi was poisoned as he conducted an investigation into corrupt business practices in Yemen’s oil sector. The Hothis were also accused of orchestrating the attack to conceal alleged corruption.

Numerous opponents of Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood have been assassinated in the city of Taiz.

The leader of Alosbah battalions, Radhwan al-Odaini, was assassinated in 2018, followed by Adnan Al-Hammadi, who was the commander of the 35th Armoured Brigade, a military unit supporting Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in December 2019.

According to the media official of the Nasserite Unionist Party in Taiz, Mujib al-Maqtari, "assassinations are one of the most prominent obstacles to the transition towards a stable state in Yemen.”

Maqtari told the Arab Weekly that Yemeni writer Qadri Ahmed Haider estimates that there were more than 100 political assassinations in the span of a year during the height of Yemen’s unrest.

Maqtari said Adnan Al-Hammadi, who was affiliated with the Nasserist movement in Yemen, was assassinated in December 2019 after he refused to carry out the group’s agenda.

With the escalation of political conflict in Yemen, observers expect that the war-torn country will see a new wave of assassinations targeting military, political and tribal leaders of opposing ideologies.