Houthi militants abduct Yemeni president’s chief of staff
SANAA // Houthi militiamen seized president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi’s chief of staff on Saturday in a new challenge to his leadership.
The abduction of Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, who heads a “national dialogue” on Yemen’s political transition, came shortly before he was to attend a meeting on a proposed new constitution opposed by the Houthi militia.
Yemen has been dogged by instability since the 2012 removal of strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, with the Houthis and Al Qaeda seeking to fill the power vacuum.
The Houthis are widely believed to be backed by Mr Saleh.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) also has a record of acting well beyond its Yemeni base, and claimed responsibility for the January 7 attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 people.
The Charlie Hebdo attackers, French brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, are known to have trained with Al Qaeda in Yemen.
“There are around 1,000 Al Qaeda militants in Yemen from 11 Arab and non-Arab countries,” national security service chief General Mohammed Al Ahmadi told reporters on Saturday.
There were conflicting accounts about where Mr Mubarak was taken.
Mr Mubarak and his two guards when they stopped their car in central Sanaa.
He was seized and driven to an unknown location, an official from the national dialogue secretariat said.
Mr Al Ahmadi said talks were under way to secure his release.
In a statement, the militia said Mr Mubarak’s detention was necessary to prevent a UN-brokered agreement between the presidency and them in September “from being broken,” without clarifying Mr Mubarak’s role.
The “national peace and partnership agreement” was signed in September as the Houthis overran Sanaa.
It called for forming a new government and appointing Houthi advisers to Mr Hadi, and demanded the militiamen withdraw from key state institutions they had seized.
Mr Mubarak’s kidnap came just before a meeting of the national dialogue secretariat to present a draft constitution that stipulates dividing Yemen into a six-region federation, which the Houthis oppose.
Political sources said representatives of the Houthis and Mr Saleh’s General People’s Congress party walked out of a meeting headed by Mr Hadi on Saturday to discuss the political process, including the constitution.
The Houthi statement warned Hadi of an unspecified “series of special measures” they are planning, adding that “president Hadi must not cover up corruption.”
Mr Hadi has struggled to assert his authority since the Houthis seized Sanaa.
In a speech published on state news agency Saba, Mr Hadi said “our problems must be solved by wisdom and common sense, and without resorting to violence such as kidnappings and killings.”
“Those who are attempting to hamper (the political process) must realise that we are on the right path and they cannot hamper this national process,” saying that such parties could be receiving “foreign orders.”
Yemen has repeatedly accused Iran of backing the Houthis.
Mr Mubarak, a southerner, was one of the representatives in the dialogue of the Southern Movement, which seeks autonomy or secession for the formerly independent south.
Hadi named him as prime minister in October, but he turned down the job following strong opposition from the Houthis and from Mr Saleh’s party.
Mr Mubarak’s abduction comes a day after one of two Houthis appointed by Mr Hadi as advisers last year announced he was quitting because his advice had been spurned.
Since their takeover of the capital, the Houthis have pressed their advance into mainly Sunni areas south of Sanaa, where they have met deadly resistance from Sunnis, including Al Qaeda loyalists.
The turmoil has raised fears that Yemen, lies on the key shipping route from the Suez Canal to the Gulf, may become a failed state similar to Somalia.
* Agence France-Presse, Reuters
Updated: January 17, 2015 04:00 AM