Houthi rebels and Al Qaeda exchange 115 prisoners

It's the fifth time the two groups have swapped prisoners

Yemeni Shiite Huthi police forces sit in the back of a military vehicle in the capital Sanaa during a protest against the Saudi intervention in their country on September 17, 2019. The Huthis, who captured the Yemeni capital Sanaa in 2014, have been fighting against a Saudi-led coalition that intervened the following year in support of the internationally recognised government. / AFP / MOHAMMED HUWAIS

Houthi rebels and Al Qaeda’s Yemen faction (Aqap) swapped 115 prisoners earlier this week.

The swap took place in Al Bayda province on Sunday a Yemeni government minister said.

“The Houthis released 50 Al Qaeda militants, meanwhile Al Qaeda gave 65 Houthi fighters,” said Majed Fadel, a deputy in Yemen's Ministry of Human Rights and member of the government prisoner exchange committee.

“This is not the first prisoner swap deal between the two sides... the Houthis have exchanged prisoners with Al Qaeda four times before, but all the previous deals took place very confidentially.”

A high-ranking officer in the Yemeni army told The National the military received intelligence that revealed the Houthi fighters detained by Al Qaeda were captured in Al Bayda province, while the rebels detained the militants in the central prison in Sanaa. Some of those held in Yemen's capital were high-ranking members of the group and had been detained since 2013.

On Sunday, Al Qaeda, known as Ansar Al Sharia in Yemen, released images of the swap deal online. The pictures were dated September 13 and showed gunmen greeting each other.  A caption read: “Receiving a number of brothers released after prisoner swap deal with the Houthi group.”

Elisabeth Kendall, senior research fellow in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford focusing on extremist movements, told The National that such a deal between the two sides may happen again but is not necessarily an indication of co-ordination or a ceasefire between the two groups.

“It is just temporary pragmatism for mutual interest, because Aqap said it killed two Houthis on Monday with a roadside bomb in the Tayyab area of Al Bayda,” Dr Kendall said.

The deal contrasts with failed efforts between the Iran-backed Houthis and the internationally recognised Yemeni government to swap prisoners. In Jordan, the latest talks between the sides to negotiate the release of thousands of prisoners broke down after the government accused the rebels of providing a list of fake prisoners detainees.