Security authorities in Al Mahrah province in south-eastern Yemen said on Saturday they had arrested a top Houthi cleric who had returned to the country from Iran.
"Houthi leader Hassan Ali Al Emad was arrested while entering the land port of Shahn heading from abroad two weeks ago," Colonel Ahmed Arfeet, the director of the Criminal Investigative Unit, Al Mahrah police, told The National.
Another security source in Al Mahrah told The National on condition of anonymity that Al Emad had disguised himself as a traveller arriving from Oman but during questioning the cleric revealed he had in fact been in Iran.
"He admitted that he had moved between Iran, Lebanon, and Syria before going to Oman from where he returned to Sana'a," the source said.
Al Emad is one of the Iran-backed Houthi movement’s founders. As a young cleric he spent nearly 20 years living in Iran, where he studied in seminaries and married an Iranian woman.
Al Emad is the son of General Ali Yahya Al Emad, a prominent Houthi commander and religious leader who also helped found the movement.
Al Emad and his father were responsible for establishing a financial network in Iran to raise funds for the Houthi war effort in Saada – the Houthi movement’s stronghold in Yemen’s north-west – and since 2011 the younger Al Emad has been running a group of affiliate organisations with the aim of shoring up Iranian influence in Yemen.
Al Emad is also known in Yemen as a financier and advisor for the Houthi cell which plotted to assassinate former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2006. Saleh was killed by the Houthis in 2017.
In July 2020, Al Emad was honoured as a “Mujahideen in exile” by Hossien Salami, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in a conference held in Tehran to pay tribute to figures and groups that support the IRGC abroad.