I wish I had died with my wife, says Yemeni journalist who survived car bombing

Mahmoud Al Otmi says he was attacked by Iran-backed Houthi rebels for his views

Journalist Mahmoud Al Otmi is receiving medical care at a hospital in Aden. The National
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Yemeni journalist Mahmoud Al Otmi, who survived a car bomb that killed his pregnant wife in Aden last week, lay in hospital with an empty look on his wounded face. Tears rolling down his cheeks were the only expression of his agony.

“I wish I had died with Rasha,” Mr Al Otmi said as he recalled the horror of the past few weeks.

Rasha Al Harazi, 26, who was also a journalist, and her unborn child died when an explosive device planted on the couple’s car exploded. Al Otmi said he had become a target because of his views on repression carried out by the Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen.

“A month and half ago, I received information that the Houthi militants were collecting information about me, my address in Aden, my movements and the type of my car,” Mr Al Otmi said from his hospital bed.

He said he spent days thinking about how to leave Aden, in southern Yemen, “as soon as possible”.

“I decided to leave for Mukalla, but my wife was about to deliver our new baby,” he said.

“On Tuesday, I was driving to take my wife to a medical appointment related to her pregnancy when suddenly I felt pressure accompanied by a huge flame that erupted in the car."

He woke up later on a bed at the hospital.

‘I was attacked for my views’

The attack left Mr Al Otmi with shrapnel in his back, fractured bones and damage to an eye.

“They targeted me because of my views,” Mr Al Otmi said.

“I was one of a few journalists and media activists who resisted the Houthi repression against the innocent people in the Tehama region."

Mr Al Otmi had been active in covering Houthis' prosecutions against civilians in Tehama in Hodeidah.

“I kept criticising their baseless trials that ended by executing nine civilians from Hodeidah on baseless charges, including being involved in the killing of their senior leader, Saleh Al Samad, three years ago.”

Mr Al Otmi and his wife were not the first journalists to be attacked in Yemen in the past seven years. A dozen have been killed by attackers in the country since 2015.

In October, three journalists were killed in a car bomb attack on the Governor of Aden, Ahmed Lamlas. He survived.

In April, journalist Hisham Al Baqiri was killed while covering clashes between pro-government forces and the Iran-backed Houthis in Taez province, south-west Yemen.

Last year, journalist Nabil Hasan Al Quaety was killed by gunmen near his house in Aden.

Nabil Al Osaidi of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, told The National that 46 journalists and videographers had been killed in the country since 2015.

“The majority were killed while covering the war, but the last terror act that targeted the married journalists Mahmoud Al Otmi and Rasha Al Harazi was a deliberate terror attack that directly targeted the journalists, similar to the attack on journalist Nabil Hasan Al Quaety last year,” he said.

“Such attacks are a grave indicator that the future of the press freedom in Yemen is getting darker and will be grim.”

The syndicate has documented 1,450 abuses committed against journalists since 2015, including killings, kidnappings, abductions, torture, threats and unlawful prosecutions, Mr Al Osaidi said.

More than 300 journalists have been abducted during the conflict, with the majority taken by the rebels, he said.

“There are 10 journalists still detained by the Houthis. Four of them were sentenced to death by Houthi-run courts, which is another Houthi crime against the press freedom in Yemen,” he said.

Fearing for their lives, many Yemeni journalists and their families have fled the country after receiving threats.

Taha Saleh moved to Egypt, where he failed to find a job.

Journalists in Yemen “work in a poisoned work environment”, Mr Saleh said.

“At the beginning of the war, I was injured while covering the clashes between the Houthi militants and the pro-government troops in Taez city,” he said.

He said he was later abducted by extremists and groups including the political party Al Islah before leaving Yemen.

“I feel lost in Egypt. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to manage the situation here, because I have become jobless,” he said.

Justin Shilad, a senior Middle East researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists, told The National that the attack on Al Otmi and Al Harazi showed journalists in Yemen are still considered targets.

“The result is a climate of impunity, where no corner of the country is safe for journalists doing their jobs,” he said.

Mr Shilad called on the international community to prioritise the safety of journalists or “the climate of impunity will not be confined to Yemen’s borders”.

Updated: November 15, 2021, 11:12 AM