|Participant in Houthi insurgency in Yemen, the Yemeni Revolution, the Yemeni Civil War,
and the Syrian Civil War
Houthi logo reading "God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam".
(armed since 2004)
|Groups||Houthis, allied Zaidi tribes in Sa'dah|
|Area of operations|
|Battles and wars||
Ansar Allah (anṣār allāh أنصار الله "Supporters of God"), known more popularly as the Houthis (Arabic: الحوثيون al-Ḥūthiyyūn), are a Zaidi group operating in Yemen. The group takes its name from Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who launched an insurgency in 2004 and was reportedly killed by Yemeni army forces that September. Led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the group succeeded in a coup d'état in 2014–15 and, as of April 2015, retains control of Yemen's capital, Sana'a, and the parliament.
According to Ahmed Addaghashi, a professor at Sanaa University, the Houthis began as a relatively moderate theological movement. The Believing Youth (BY) established school clubs and summer camps:98 in order to "promote a Zaidi revival" in Saada. By 1994–1995, 15–20,000 students had attended BY summer camps. The religious material included lectures by Mohammed Hussein Fadhlallah (a Lebanese Shiite scholar) and Hassan Nasrallah (Secretary General of Lebanon's Hezbollah Party) ":99
Although Hussein al-Houthi, who was killed in 2004, had no official relation with Believing Youth, according to Zaid, he contributed to the radicalisation of some Zaydis after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. BY-affiliated youth adopted anti-American and anti-Jewish slogans which they chanted in the Saleh Mosque in Sana'a after Friday prayers. According to Zaid, the followers of Houthi's insistence on chanting the slogans attracted the authorities' attention, further increasing government worries over the extent of the al-Houthi movement’s influence. "The security authorities thought that if today the Houthis chanted `Death to America’, tomorrow they could be chanting `Death to the president [of Yemen]”. 800 BY supporters were arrested in Sana'a in 2004. President Ali Abdullah Saleh then invited Hussein al-Houthi to a meeting in Sana'a, but Hussein declined. On 18 June 2004 Saleh sent government forces to arrest Hussein. Hussein responded by launching an insurgency against the government, but was killed on 10 September 2004. The insurgency continued intermittently until a ceasefire agreement was reached in 2010.
The Houthis participated in the 2011 Yemeni Revolution, as well as the ensuing National Dialogue Conference (NDC). However, they rejected the provisions of the November 2011 Gulf Cooperation Council deal, which included immunity for former president Saleh and the establishment of a coalition government.
As the revolution went on, Houthis gained control of greater territory. By 9 November 2011, Houthis were said to be in control of two Yemeni governorates (Saada and Al Jawf) and close to taking over their third governorate (Hajjah), which would enable them to launch a direct assault on Yemeni capital Sana'a. In May 2012, it was reported that the Houthis controlled a majority of Saada, Al Jawf, and Hajjah governorates; they had also gained access to the Red Sea and started erecting barricades north of the capital Sana'a in preparation for more conflict.
By 21 September 2014, Houthis were said to control parts of the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, including government buildings and a radio station. While control of the capital expanded to the rest of Sana'a, as well as other towns such as Rada', control was strongly challenged by Al-Qaeda. It was believed by the Gulf States that the Houthis had accepted aid from Iran while Saudi Arabia was aiding their Yemeni rivals.
On 20 January 2015, Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace in the capital. President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was in the presidential palace during the takeover but was not harmed. The movement officially took control of the Yemeni government on 6 February, dissolving parliament and declaring its Revolutionary Committee to be the acting authority in Yemen. On 20 March 2015, The al-Badr and al-Hashoosh mosques came under suicide attack during midday prayers. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant quickly claimed responsibility. The blasts killed 142 Houthi worshippers and wounded more than 351, making it the deadliest terrorist attack in Yemen's history.
In a televised speech on 22 March, Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi accused the US and Israel of supporting the terrorists attacks. He blamed regional Arab states for financing terrorist groups operating inside Yemen. On 27 March 2015, in response to perceived Houthi threats to Sunni factions in the region, Saudi Arabia along with Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan led a gulf coalition airstrike against Yemen. The military coalition includes the United States who is helping with the planning of air strikes, as well as logistical and intelligence support.
There is a difference between the al-Houthi family, which has about twenty members:102 and the Houthi movement, which took the name "Houthi" after the death of Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi in 2004.
Membership of the group had between 1,000 and 3,000 fighters as of 2005 and between 2,000 and 10,000 fighters as of 2009. In the Yemen Post it was claimed, however, that they had over 100,000 fighters. According to Houthi expert Ahmed Al-Bahri the Houthis had a total of 100,000-120,000 followers, including both armed fighters and unarmed loyalists.
Zaydi Shiite ideology
Houthi leaders such as Issam Al-'Imad stated as early as 2011 that they were religiously and ideologically influenced by Iran, and as of 2014 it has been observered that “The Houthi group's approach is in many ways similar to that of Hizbollah in Lebanon. Similarly religiously based and Iran-backed, both groups follow the same military doctrine and glorify the Khomeini revolution in Iran”.
Houthis belong to the Zaidi branch of Islam, also known as Fivers, a sect of Islam almost exclusively present in Yemen. Similar to Sunni Muslims in matters of religious law and rulings, the Houthi belief in the concept of an Imamate as being essential to their religion makes them distinct from Sunnis. However, they are also regularly accused, even by fellow Zaidis, of secretly being converts or followers of the Twelver sect, which is the official religion of their ally and backer Iran.
The Houthis have asserted that their actions are to fight against the expansion of Salafism in Yemen, and for the defence of their community from discrimination, whereas the Yemeni government has in turn accused the insurgents of intending to overthrow the regime out of a desire to institute Zaidi religious law, destabilising the government and stirring anti-American sentiment. The Yemeni government has also accused the Houthis of having ties to external backers, in particular the Iranian government. In turn, the Houthis have countered with allegations that the Yemeni government is being backed by al-Qaeda and Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was also Zaidi. The discord has led some publishers to fear that further confrontations may lead to an all-out Sunni-Shiite war.
- Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi – former leader (killed 2004)
- Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi – leader
- Yahia Badreddin al Houthi - senior leader
- Abdul-Karim Badreddin al-Houthi – high-ranking commander
- Badr Eddin al-Houthi – spiritual leader (died 2010)
- Abdullah al-Ruzami – former military commander
- Abu Ali Abdullah al-Hakem al-Houthi – military commander
- Saleh Habra – political leader
- Faris Manna - Houthi-appointed governor of Saada and former head of Saleh's Presidential committee
Motives and objectives
When armed conflict for the first time erupted back in 2004 between the Yemenis government and Houthis, the then Yemenis president accused Houthis and other Islamic opposition parties of trying to overthrow the government and the republican system. However Houthi leaders for their part rejected the accusation by saying that they had never rejected the president or the republican system but were only defending themselves against government attacks on their community.
According to a February 2015 Newsweek report, Houthis are fighting "for things that all Yemenis crave: government accountability, the end to corruption, regular utilities, fair fuel prices, job opportunities for ordinary Yemenis and the end of Western influence."
In an interview with Yemen Times, Hussein Al-Bukhari, a Houthi insider said that Houthis' preferable political system is a republic with elections where women can also hold political positions, and that they do not seek to form a cleric-led government after the model of Islamic Republic of Iran for "we cannot apply this system in Yemen because the followers of the Shafi [Sunni] doctrine are bigger in number than the Zaydis." Ali Akbar Velayati, International Affairs Advisor to Supreme Iranian Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, stated in October 2014 that "We are hopeful that Ansar-Allah has the same role in Yemen as Hezbollah has in eradicating the terrorists in Lebanon".
|This section requires expansion. (March 2015)|
The Houthis have used both military action and activism to achieve their political goals, and have been accused of violations of international humanitarian law such as using child soldiers, looting, forced evacuations, executions, forced taxation, and human shielding. In 2004, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi led an insurgency in the north of Yemen. Hussein al-Houthi's brother, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, took over the insurgency after his death. In 2015, the Houthis captured the capital Sana'a.
In the past, the Houthis have also used civil disobedience. Following the Yemeni government's decision in July 13, 2014 to increase fuel prices, Houthi leaders succeeded to organize massive rallies in the capital Sana'a to protest the decision and to demand resignation of the incumbent government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi for "state-corruption". These protests developed into the 2014-2015 phase of the insurgency. Similarly, following 2015 Saudi-led airstrikes against Houthis which claimed civilians lives, Yemenis responded to the Abdul-Malik al-Houthi's call and took to streets of the capital, Sana'a, in tens of thousands to voice their anger at the Saudi invasion.
Yemeni and Saudi officials say that the Houthis have received significant support from Iran in the form of weapons, money and training since 2004, while Houthi leadership denies having received weapons or financial support from Iran. A December 2009 cable between Sanaa and various intelligence agencies disseminated by Wikileaks states that US State Dept. analysts believed the Houthis obtained weapons from the Yemeni black market and corrupt members of the Republican Guard. On the April 8th edition of PBS Newshour, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the US knew Iran was providing military support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, adding that that Washington “is not going to stand by while the region is destabilized.”
The Houthis exert de facto authority over the bulk of North Yemen. North Yemen was united with South Yemen in 1990; the Yemen government has repeatedly suppressed separatist protests by force. The Houthis' direct administration includes the following territories:
- All of Saada Governorate
- All of 'Amran Governorate
- Majority of Al Jawf Governorate, including:
- All of Hajjah Governorate
- Majority of Sana'a Governorate including strong presence in:
- All of Dhamar Governorate
- All of Al Mahwit Governorate
- All of Raymah Governorate
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