Four Yemeni provinces in the north and east have witnessed extremely dramatic events over the past few days. Despite the sporadic nature of insurgent clashes, the fighting in Sa’ada, Hajjah, Jawf and Marib provinces all had one thing in common: the absence of the government.
In Sa’ada, the main Houthi Shi’ite stronghold, at least two people were killed and twelve others seriously injured on Wednesday when a motorcycle suicide bomber, Ali Salem Al-Gharazi, blew himself up in the crowded Othman Mujalli Market in Sa’ada city. Observers say the bombing had the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda, especially as it came only days after a renowned Shi’ite cleric called at a funeral for jihad for those killed in clashes between Houthi Shi’ites and soldiers guarding the country’s intelligence headquarters in the capital, Sana’a.
In the neighboring province of Hajjah, groups of armed tribesmen have surrounded Hajjah’s central prison for more than ten days. The tribesmen are seeking to kill nineteen men languishing inside the prison before they may be released.
The men inside the prison, who are also from Hajjah, were put on trial for ambushing and killing Colonel Hamoud Kayed Hamza and three of his bodyguards in April 2011.
The Islamist party to which the accused men belong, Islah, demand their release, claiming that they are “revolutionaries” like the seventeen men who were released from Sana’a central prison after similar appeals were made earlier this month. The men were accused of involvement in the failed assassination attempt on former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh in June 2011.
Concerning the case in Hajjah, Islah submitted documents to the general prosecutor and the current Yemeni president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in which they demanded the accused be released on the grounds that the men were revolutionaries. The party called for the file to be closed and the case be examined according to a transitional justice law currently being drafted by those involved in the national dialogue process.
But the twenty-three-year-old son of the slain colonel, Bashir Hamoud Hamzah, disagrees. “No, this is a purely criminal case, it had nothing to do with the revolution at all,” Hamzeh argued.
Hamzeh has the backing of his tribe, as well as those who knew his father as a “sincere security officer and tribal leader,” according to one of the men surrounding the prison. “If these men are released, this would mean that there is no need for courts and prosecutors; then we will be in complete chaos,” agreed Alaa Taher.
Last month, President Hadi, under pressure from Islah, ordered the general prosecutor to suspend the trial until the transitional justice law passed. “It would be easier for us to kill these killers if they are released, but it would be even more difficult for the president and all Yemenis to have justice and a civil state; there would be chaos,” Hamzeh contended.
On Tuesday, June 18, hundreds of armed tribesmen stormed and gained control of local government buildings in Jawf, a province in the northeast of the country that runs along Saudi Arabia’s southern border.
The tribesmen accuse the Islamist governor, Mohammed Salem Abood, and his aides of embezzling millions of Yemeni rials. They also believe he is favoring his own men and relatives from the Islamist party. Abood and other officials, including the man in charge of security, escaped the scene beforehand.
The spokesman for the attacking tribesmen, Hassan Abu Hadrah, also accused the governor of having signed secret documents with Saudi officials. “The documents signed in our names were only to justify more injustice against us,” Abu Hadrah said over the phone from where his men now occupy government buildings.
The Jawf tribesmen, especially Thu Hussein tribesmen, have appealed to Hadi to replace the runaway governor with someone who can prevent further bloodshed. Jawf’s tribesmen have closed the local branch of the central bank, fearing it may be looted. They have also formed, from among their number, popular committees to protect private and public property in the absence of government authorities.
Abood escaped to his tribesmen in the neighboring province of Marib, where angry tribesmen keep sabotaging the country’s most vital supply routes for oil, gas and electricity. Abood refutes claims that he left for Marib because his office was stormed. He stated that he went to Marib on assignment, saying that things were all right in his governorate.
This week, the Yemeni government sent additional military personnel to protect the electricity towers and oil and gas pipelines from saboteurs in Marib. Those deliberately disrupting supply hope to wield some power in having their demands heard. Often, they are pushing the government for the release of relatives accused of murder or linked to terror.
Before sending the additional forces, the government tried to appease some of the local leaders by paying them approximately USD 250,000, in the hope that they would then allow technicians in to repair the damage.
However, paying off some tribesmen angered others. Salem Ahmed Al-Dhemen, a leader from Damasheka, a region in Marib, defiantly announced he would keep sabotaging electricity and oil pipelines if the government did not meet his demands. Dhemen says he wants fair compensation for his father and seven other people from his family who were killed in 1994.
Dhemen says that the government has been procrastinating since 1994, and have yet to meet his demands. The ultimatum he gave ended on Tuesday, June 18, 2013. He threatened that, should the government not compensate him, he would sabotage electricity and oil lines in his area in Damasheka. Dhemen is one of three tribal leaders who publicly admit to sabotage to leverage the government. The government is unable to meet their demands, but it is also unable to prevent tribesmen from holding the country’s supplies hostage.
Tanks and armored vehicles with hundreds of soldiers are now surrounding the areas where saboteurs are based in the east of the country. The tribesmen who sabotage are not hiding: they are actually readying themselves to fight.