Bodies found of Yemeni tribal leaders abducted by Houthis

Four sheikhs from Al Bayda were found bound and shot through the head four days after they were taken from their homes.

Houthi rebels patrol an area in their stronghold of Saada in northern Yemen on August 2, 2016. Naif Rahma / Reuters
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ADEN // Four tribal sheikhs from Yemen’s Al Bayda province were found murdered on Wednesday, four days after they were abducted from their homes by Houthi rebels.

The bodies of Mohammed Ahmed Al Omari, Ahmed Saleh Al Omari, Saleh Ahmed Al Omari, and Saleh Salem Al Omari, all from the Thi Naem district of central Al Bayda, were found in a ditch in Al Malagem district with their hands bound. Each man had been shot in the head and their bodies bore signs of torture, says a committee of local tribal leaders.

This committee, which was set up last year to mediate between the tribes and the rebels in Al Bayda, has written to the UN special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, describing the execution of the sheikhs.

It said the bodies were found on Wednesday morning by a shepherd in a rainwater channel two kilometres from a Houthi checkpoint. When the shepherd told the rebels at the checkpoint about the bodies, they said it was not their business.

All four men belonged to the same clan, and were leaders in the fight against Houthi attempts to take control of the province.

Their murder is expected to trigger a retaliation against the Iran-backed rebels by the tribes in Thi Naem, said Fahd Abdul Jaleel, a journalist based in Al Bayda.

“The Houthis executed the sheikhs while they were bound – this is the first time that sheikhs have been killed in this way and the tribes consider this crime to be a black shame,” Abdul Jaleel said. “This means the tribes will work together to take revenge for these sheikhs, as the Houthis did not respect the morals of war.”

Al Bayda is largely under the control of pro-government forces, and tribes in the province have been resisting rebel attempts to seize territory since the civil war in Yemen escalated in March last year.

Abdul Jaleel said most of Thi Naem was under the control of loyalist forces, but that the rebels were present in some areas and arresting civilians on roads.

The Houthis are holding dozens of civilians and “people fear that the Houthis will execute them, as they respect neither religious nor tribal rules”, Abdul Jaleel said.

“The Houthis in Al Bayda said last month that they would not kidnap any tribal sheikhs, and that is why the four sheikhs moved freely in their district. But the Houthis did not respect their promise.”

Since the beginning of the war in Al Bayda, the resistance has been fighting the Houthis without any ground support as the rebels control all roads leading to the province. The Saudi-led coalition has provided support from the air, however.