Siege of Dammaj

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Siege of Dammaj
Part of Shia insurgency in Yemen and Yemeni Revolution
Dar al-Hadith.jpg
Dar al-Hadith in Dammaj
Date 15 October – 22 December 2011
Location Dammaj, Saada Governorate, Yemen
Result Ceasefire[1]
Belligerents
Salafi fighters
Yemen Pro-government tribes
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula[2]
Houthis
Commanders and leaders
Yahya al-Hajoori
Abu Ismail
Abu Ali Abdullah al-Hakem al-Houthi
Saleh Habra
Dhaifallah al-Shami
Mohammed Abdulsalam
Strength
7,000 students[3] Unknown
Casualties and losses
70 killed[1] and 170 wounded[1] 18+ killed[2][4][5][6]
250 people killed in total[1]

The Siege of Dammaj started in October 2011 when the Houthis, a Shia Zaidi rebel group which control the Saada Governorate, accused a Sunni Salafi loyal to the Yemeni regime[3] of smuggling weapons into their religious center in the town of Dammaj and demanded they hand over their weapons and military posts in the town. When the Salafis refused the Houthis imposed a siege on the town.[7] The town is controlled by the Houthis and the fighting was mainly centered around Dar al-Hadith religious school,[8] which is run by hardcore Salafis[3] and is known to have a number of students with links to al-Qaeda,[9] including several prominent al-Qaeda leaders which graduated from the school[10] although its founder (imam Muqbil bin Hadi al-Wadi'i) rejected Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. The Salafis from Damaaj and the current imam of Dar ul Hadith, sheikh Yahya Hajoori are totally against al-Qaeda and all that they stand for.[11]

On 22 December, a ceasefire was signed in which both sides agreed to the removal of all their military checkpoints and barriers around the town. Neutral armed men from the Hashid and Bakil tribes would be deployed around the town to ensure both sides adhere to the ceasefire.[1]

Prelude[edit]

During the Shia insurgency in Yemen, the government of Yemen recruited over 5,000 Salafi fighters to fight alongside the government.[12] Houthis also alleged that the government was using al-Qaeda fighters as mercenaries to fight against them.[13] At least 69 students from Dar al-Hadith were killed during Operation Scorched Earth, fighting on the government's side.[3]

When the Yemeni Revolution against Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh started, the Houthis joined the protests[14] and used the opportunity to seize control of Sa'dah in March.[15] The Salafi group in Dar al-Hadith, however, denounced the protests, siding with the regime.[3] In July, clashes started between Houthis and militants loyal to the Sunni Islamist Al-Islah party in Al Jawf Governorate,[16] in which over 120 people were killed[17] and in August, an al-Qaeda bombing killed 14 Houthis in Jawf,[18] after which the Houthis killed four students from Dar al-Hadith in a vehicle in Sa'dah city.[19]

The siege[edit]

The fighting started on October 15, after the Houthis received a leaked letter from Dar al-Hadith's imam, sheikh Yahya al-Hajoori, in which he urged Yemeni commander Yahya Mohamed Abdullah Saleh to fight against the Houthis[20] and a 13-year old Houthi supporter was physically assaulted in Dammaj by Salafis.[1] The Houthis demanded that the Salafis empty their military posts in the city,[7] claiming that "the Damaj School has made attacks against us and is attempting to take control of military positions outside of their area, plus, they have continued to incite us, describing us as non-believers and carrying out military training for their supporters"[3] but the Salafis refused.[7] The Houthis responded by besieging Dar al-Hadeeth[3] on October 18,[20] by surrounding it with snipers[19] and attacking the Salafi held al-Baraqa Mountain on October 30.[3] The Salafis claimed the siege does not allow any food or medicine to enter the complex and have called upon Yemen authorities to break the siege.[7] The Houthis claimed they are only blocking weapons from entering the area.[21]

In response to the siege, tribesmen loyal to the Salafi group blocked the al-Boqa road, connecting Sa'dah to Saudi Arabia and tribesmen from the JMP blocked the Sana'a-Sa'dah road. Houthi appointed Sa'dah governor Fares Mana'a tried to mediate a ceasefire in which the Houthis would re-open the road and both sides would withdraw to their old positions.[3] The ceasefire however, lasted merely 4 hours, after which a new round of fighting broke out in which one Salafi fighter was killed.[7] The school and surrounding areas, including 10,000 inhabitants were besieged for over two weeks.[22]

A ceasefire, crafted by local tribesmen, which lasted one week, was broken on November 25, when Houthis started shelling the Salafi fighters' positions in the town, killing three and wounding two. Houthi leader Saleh Habra said the Yemeni government was supplying arms to the Salafis and trying to help them set up a base near the Saudi border, stating the new attack was to cut off their arms supplies.[23] Salafi leader Sheikh Yahya al-Hajouri responded by declaring a jihad against the Houthis, which he described as "rejectionists".[21]

The Houthis launched a raid into the town in the pre-dawn hours on 26 November, [24] which lasted until the afternoon of 27 November. According to Houthi leader Dhaifallah al-Shami, the raid was in response to the Salafis rejecting a ceasefire offer by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi and continued fighting.[25] A total of 24 Salafis were killed and 61 injured during the raid.[26] The deaths included two Indonesian and two United States citizens.[27] The two Indonesian's were later confirmed as Zamiri and Abu Soleh, both 24-years old.[28] Al-Shami confirmed that several Houthis were also killed during the raid,[26] which the Houthi commander Mohammed Abdulsalam put the number at less than ten.[29]

On 30 November, the Houthis shelled the town again, injuring 26 people.[30]

On 3 December, after 46 days, the Houthis agreed to ease the blockade, by allowing food aid supplied by the Red Cross to enter the area. They still, however, did not allow anyone to go in and out. Salafi students also accused the Houthis of confiscating a third of the food for themselves, a claim denied by the Houthis.[20] According to the Red Cross four children had died of hunger and three elderly men of lack of medications, between December 3 and the start of the siege. The town was still said to be short on fuel.[8] Houthis claimed a ceasefire had been put in place, however fighting reportedly continued on both sides[20] and on December 7, an attack launched by Salafi fighters in Damaj killed 3 Houthis. Houthi leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi responded in a statement saying that "In a step that reveals their malicious intentions, they opened fire on us, killing three people, these unprovoked attacks are unjustified and are aimed at igniting a sectarian war in the country."[5][31] The Houthis responded by shelling Salafi positions on the al-Baraqa Mountain, killing six people and injuring 15. A Salafi spokesman claimed that "al-Houthis have taken advantage of the ceasefire and made advances on al-Buraqa Mountain" and said that he expected casualties to rise as violence would continue[32] On December 7 new clashes broke out in which three Houthis and four Salafis were killed. According to eyewitnesses, the Houthis generally had the upper hand during the fighting, although Salafis managed to capture several Houthi positions.[4] Houthis barricaded their positions on the al-Baraqa

On 8 and 9 December, secterian clashes broke out on the main highway in Kutaf, which the Houthis had been blockading for weeks, when according to government officials, the Houthis attacked a convoy sent by the Sunni Wa'ela tribe to bring food and medicine to Damaj. The Houthis however, claimed that "the so- called aid caravan en-route to Damaj was a military caravan and it attacked Houthi followers Thursday evening in Kutaf area"[33] The Houthis called the convoy a provocation[34] through which foreign forces were trying to ignite sectarian violence in the region.[33] In total eight Houthis and six tribesmen were killed[2] and fifteen people were injured in the fighting.[33]

On 19 December, Houthis shelled Dammaj, killing five Sunnis including a child. On Tuesday fighters from the Sunni Wa'ela tribe attacked the Western side of Dammaj in an attempt to bring aid into the town. Five Wa'ela tribal fighters and four Houthis were killed during the clashes.[6]

Aftermath[edit]

In June 2012, renewed clashes between Houthi tribesmen and Salafist students left 22 dead from the latter, including 2 British citizens.[35]

On 29 October 2013, fighting started again when Houthis shelled a Salafi mosque and the adjacent religious school, anticipating an attack from 4,000 Salafist fighters who had gathered in Dammaj.[36] 58[37] were killed and a hundred wounded in the Salafi side, with no reports of casualties on the Houthi side.[38]

On 5 January, two days of clashes between Shia rebels and Sunni tribesmen fighting alongside hardline Salafists in northern Yemen killed at least 23 people, sources said on Sunday. Fighting has centred for months on a Salafist mosque and Koranic school in Dammaj, which has been besieged by the Shiite rebels known as Huthis. But the conflict has spread in the northern provinces, embroiling Sunni tribes wary of the power of the Huthis, who have repeatedly been accused of receiving support from Iran. On Sunday, at least 10 people were killed in Al Jawf Governorate in clashes between rebels and armed men from the Daham tribe, a tribal chief told AFP. Seven people were killed at Harf Sufyan, in the northern Amran Governorate, another tribal chief said on Sunday, while two others died in shelling of Dammaj, in Saada Governorate, Salafist websites reported. Four people died in fighting that took place in Al Jawf Governorate on Saturday, another tribal chief said. Huthi rebels this week took over positions evacuated by Salafist gunmen in the area of Kitaf wa Al Boqe'e District, north of Sa'dah city, witnesses said, adding the rebels demolished the Salafist Dar al-Hadith religious school and 20 houses. The rebels have also warned border guards to evacuate the Bart al-Anan crossing point with Saudi Arabia, in Al Jawf Governorate, according to the head of the force, Colonel Qassem Thawaba.[39]

In January 2014, after sectarian violence killed over 830 people in 2013, a ceasefire was brokered by the Yemeni government. As part of the ceasefire, Yemeni troops deployed to the town of Dammaj and would evacuate all Salafist fighters and their families to the neighboring Al Hudaydah Governorate.[40]

Reactions[edit]

Following the siege, the government of Indonesia tried to evacuate its citizens from the Dar al-Hadith institute were over 100 Indonesians were said to live. Yemen's Indonesian ambassador, Agus Budiman, said it was difficult for them to evacuate the students because most of them did not want to leave and were armed and "ready for jihad", adding that the government was "worried about their condition". They were eventually contacted with permission of sheihk al-Hajoori and the Houthis said they would ensure the safety of their evacuation, although they did not allow embassy staff to enter the compound or take the bodies.[28]

Yemeni Sunni Islamists held a rally Sana'a on 30 November, led by Mohammad al-Ammari, to protest the siege. Ammari said that thousands of people were being besieged and deprived of food and medicines, accusing the Houthis of trying to create a Shi'a state in North Yemen.[21] Salafi clerics at the rally warned the Houthis that they would be willing to deploy fighters to Damaj.[41]

The Yemeni National Council (an opposition council established on 17 August 2011 to lead the revolution against Saleh) send a delegation led by Mussed Al-Radaee, general secretary of the Nasserite Party to Sa'dah. A similar delegation was sent by protesters from Sanaa's Change Square. Neither group has released their report yet.[20]

On 3 December, in a message was posted on jihadist website Shumukh al-Islam, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi announced they would be deploying fighters to Dammaj to combat the Houthis. Another Yemeni al-Qaeda leader, sheikh Abu Zubair Adil al-Abab released a statement during a lecture in which he stated al-Qaeda would be providing training to Sunni fighters in Dammaj and warned the Houthis that "You tried our strength, and the day of al-Ghadir is not far from you."[42] Nasir al-Wuhayshi is himself an alumni from one of Dar al-Hadith's offshoots and according to Said Obaid, chairman of the Al-Jemhi Centre for Researches and Studies, "graduates of these schools are almost ready to be Al-Qaeda members."[10] On 12 December, an audio message was posted on jihadist websites by al-Qaeda leader Ibrahim al-Rubaish which said that "We [al-Qaeda] were saddened by the Shiite rebels' months-long siege on our people in Damaj in Saada. Therefore, we declare a Jihad to eliminate such malignant germs from the surface of the region."[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Yemen Times Houthis And Salafis Reach Cease Fire Agreement, December 26, 2011
  2. ^ a b c d CRI Yemen's al-Qaida Declares Jihad on Shiite Rebels as Sectarian Clash Kills 14, December 13, 2011
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Yemen Times Sectarian conflict looms in Sa’ada, October 30, 2011
  4. ^ a b Yemen Post Sectarian violence Grows in North Yemen; Seven Killed, December 9, 2011
  5. ^ a b Al-Ahram Yemen Shiite rebels says Sunnis killed three
  6. ^ a b The Philippine Star 9 killed in sectarian conflict in Yemen, December 20
  7. ^ a b c d e Yemen Post Clashes in Sa’ada Between Houthis and Salafis, November 5, 2011
  8. ^ a b YEMEN: Children at risk as aid access denied, December 6, 2011
  9. ^ Al-Qaeda issues ultimatum, September 22, 201
  10. ^ a b Al-Ahram Why Yemen?, November 4, 2010
  11. ^ Tuhfah Al-Mujeeb, from the chapter "Who’s Behind the Bombings in the Two Sanctuaries (Mecca & Medina)?", 1996
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  13. ^ Press TV Yemen employs al-Qaeda mercenaries: Houthis, October 28, 2009
  14. ^ Press TV Houthis join protests in north Yemen, February 22, 2011
  15. ^ Arab News Yemeni regime loses grip on four provinces, March 28, 2011
  16. ^ Reuters Factional fighting brings Yemen unrest nearer Saudi, July 12, 2011
  17. ^ Yemen Post Yemeni Revolution Slowly entering Phase of War, July 29, 2011
  18. ^ Xinhua News Agency Suspected al-Qaida car bomb kills 14 Shi'ite Houthi rebels in Yemen: official , August 15, 2011
  19. ^ a b Yemen Times Salafis Unite Against Shiite Houthi Threat, November 30, 2011
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  21. ^ a b c Yemen Islamists decry 'siege' by Shiite rebels, November 30, 2010
  22. ^ The Times of India 20 killed in attack on Yemen Sunni school, November 27, 2011
  23. ^ Daily Star Three killed in clashes in Yemen's north, November 26, 2011
  24. ^ CNN Medics: Militants raid Yemen town, killing dozens, November 27, 2011
  25. ^ Chicago Tribune At least 21 killed, dozens hurt in north Yemen fighting, November 27, 2011
  26. ^ a b BusinessWeek Yemen Shiite Houthis Fight Salafists Near Saudi Arabia’s Border, November 27, 2011
  27. ^ CRI English Houthi Rebels Kill 24 People in N. Yemen, November 27, 2011
  28. ^ a b Tempo Interactive 100 RI Nationals Involved in Yemeni Conflict, December 1, 2011
  29. ^ Google News 20 killed in attack on Yemen Sunni centre: tribe, November 27, 2011
  30. ^ Reuters At least 26 injured in new north Yemen fighting, November 30, 2011
  31. ^ NOW Lebanon Yemeni Shia rebels says Sunnis killed three, December 7, 2011
  32. ^ Monsters and Critics Six killed in violence in northern Yemen, December 8, 2011
  33. ^ a b c Xinhuanet 11 killed in sectarian fight in north Yemen, December 9, 2011
  34. ^ Monsters and Critics Seven die as clashes erupt in northern Yemen, December 9, 2011
  35. ^ Gardham, Duncan (26 June 2012). "British Muslims killed fighting in Dammaj, Yemen". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  36. ^ "Clashes in Dammaj take a turn for the worse". Yemen Post. 29 October 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  37. ^ "Three killed in Yemen sectarian clashes as truce fails to take hold". Reuters. 3 November 2013. 
  38. ^ "UPDATE 1-Death toll in attack on Salafi-held town in Yemen rises to 24". Reuters. 1 November 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  39. ^ "Clashes kill at least 23 in north Yemen". The Daily Star. 5 January 2014. 
  40. ^ Yemeni gov't evacuates Salafis from northern conflicts
  41. ^ Yemen Times Salafis unite against Shiite Houthi threat, November 30, 2011
  42. ^ Gulf of Aden Security Review - December 6, 2011