Shiite insurgents in Yemen call for supporters to attack government


Shiite insurgents called on supporters to attack institutions under the control of Yemen’s embattled president on Saturday, as 100 U.S. troops were preparing to evacuate a base in the southern part of the country after al-Qaeda briefly captured a neighboring city.

The call to arms by the insurgents, known as the Houthis, appears to have pushed the desperately poor Arabian Peninsula country into a state of civil war after months of mounting violence. It also further complicates U.S. counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, which has used Yemen as a staging ground for attacks against the West.

Published by the state-run news agency, Saba, the declaration was issued after a televised address by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi earlier Saturday in which he accused the Houthis of being stooges of Iran.

It was the first public address that Hadi gave since establishing a governing authority in the southern city of Aden, rivaling the Houthi-controlled government in the capital, Sanaa.

Shiite Iran has boosted support for the Houthis, who follow an offshoot of Shiite Islam known as Zaydism. Hadi’s authority has received increasing support from Iran’s primary nemesis, Saudi Arabia, which is Sunni, raising concern that Yemen is becoming a proxy battleground between the regional powers.

Hadi’s address came a day after suicide bombers targeted two Houthi-linked mosques in Sanaa, killing as many as 137 people in what was one of the deadliest attacks in the country since the civil war of 1994.

A group alleging to be a wing of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for Friday’s bombings. The Sunni-militant group that has sowed chaos in Iraq and Syria is not known to have a presence in Yemen, but the incident highlights how extremists are exploiting widening chaos that began when Houthis insurgents invaded Sanaa in September and toppled Hadi’s government in January.

The chaos appears to have convinced the U.S. to withdraw its remaining security presence in Yemen. Some 100 special forces troops, who specialized in assisting Yemeni forces in the fight against AQAP, were leaving the al-Annad air base, CNN reported. On Friday, militants from AQAP – a powerful al-Qaeda affiliate that has staged attacks inside Yemen and in the West – captured a nearby city before being repelled by local military units.

AQAP has been targeted by U.S. drone strikes for years in coordination with Yemeni forces, but worsening violence has jeopardized that counter-terrorism coordination.

In January, the Houthis overthrew Yemen’s government and placed Hadi under house arrest.