Airstrike on Yemeni president's Aden palace

Airstrike on Yemeni president's Aden palace
5 min read
Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi flees air raid targeting his palace in his southern power base Aden. The attack came shortly after anti-Hadi forces launched attack on Aden airport.
Clashes have erupted in Yemen's southern city of Aden [AFP]

Yemeni President, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, was evacuated to safety Thursday after a warplane targeted a palace in Aden where he is staying after fleeing political turmoil in the capital, an aide said.

"President Hadi has been evacuated to a safe place but he has not left the country," the source told AFP as the plane made a second pass over the palace in the southern port city.

Security forces, who deployed anti-aircraft guns to ward off the plane, said it had opened fire in a first pass but missed the palace, hitting a nearby hillside.

     President Hadi has been evacuated to a safe place but he has not left the country.

- Presidnet Hadi's aide.

Hadi took refuge in Aden last month after fleeing house arrest in Sana'a under the Shia Huthi militia that has taken control of the capital.

The attack is a a direct attack on Hadi's rule and a sign of increasing insecurity in the country.

Earlier on Thursday, Yemeni Special Forces opposed to the President battled loyalist militia in Aden, leaving five people dead and forcing the international airport to close.

The fighting brought Aden's airport to a standstill and the entrapment of more than a 100 passengers who had boarded a flight to Cairo.

Travellers arriving at the international airport early Thursday were told to turn back because of the clashes.

"I could not move," one told AFP, saying that access to the airport was blocked by armed men.

Special Forces members – a unit of police commandos loyal to long-time autocratic president Ali Abdullah Saleh who was ousted following a 2011 popular uprising and Houthi militia in control of the capital Sanaa- managed to enter the airport grounds, but were met with heavy resistance from the security forces and militias loyal to President Hadi.

During the assault rocket propelled grenades, light artillery, and machine guns were fired.

Armoured vehicles were also seen emerging from the Special Forces's base, under the control of General Abdul-Hafez al-Saqqaf.

According to eyewitnesses these were the most violent clashes the city has seen for a while.

     During the assault rocket propelled grenades, light artillery, and machine guns were fired.

However, the South People's Committees – locally recruited militia loyal to Hadi-  managed to keep control of the airport, killing three and captured over ten Special Forces soldiers as they tried to enter the airport from the northern side.

Two fighters from the South People's Committees were killed and seven wounded, the militia said.

Al-Saqqaf, has defied a decree by Hadi relieving him of his command and said he will only follow orders from the presidential council in Sana'a.

The Houthi militia who overtook the capital last September, named the council to replace Hadi in February, but the president has refused to grant it legitimacy.

Fighting also erupted in other parts of the port city, including outside the Aden branch of Yemen's central bank, as commander  al-Saqqaf deployed his men at points around the city during the night.

Aden is mostly under the control of the Popular Resistance Committees, but the 2,000 strong Special Forces refuse to acknowledge his authority.

The fall of Aden airport, a major hub on the Arabian sea, to Saleh and Houthi loyalists would have further isolated Hadi, who had declared the city as the country's temporary capital last month after he escaped house arrest at the hands of Houthi rebels in the capital, Sana'a.

Silencing activists

On the same day, al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility for murdering a leading Ansarullah (Houthi) activist Abdul Kareem al-Khaiwani in a statement posted on its official Twitter account.

The post said: "Mujahideen on motorbikes shot the Houthi leader Abdul Kareem al-Khaiwani, noon yesterday, on Al-Raqqas Street in Sanaa."

The post gave no further details except to say the assailants "safely" withdrew from the scene.

Abdul Kareem al-Khaiwani’s murder coincided with the fourth anniversary of Friday of Dignity on March 18, 2011, when 43 protesters were killed by pro-regime militants. It was one of the most violent episodes after the 2011 February revolution against the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh.

     Khiwani’s "despicable killing today smacks of a politically motivated assassination."

- Said Boumedouha.

Khaiwani, 50, a journalist and a strong critic of Saleh's regime, was appointed representative of the Houthi movement in the National Dialogue held between March 18, 2013 and January 20, 2014. He defended the Houthis in many of his writings, especially after the Constitutional Declaration following the Houthi takeover of the Yemeni government in February.

Khaiwani, originally from the city of T'aizz, Yemen's third largest city, held a degree in political sciences from the University of Sanaa and was a leader in al-Haq Party and then in the Union of Popular Forces, both members of the Joint Meeting of Parties (JMP).

He was persecuted on many occasions for his anti-Saleh positions. In late 2004, he was detained for over a year, and put on trial for "insulting the president".  He was released in 2005 after a presidential pardon, but detained again two years later.

In 2008, Amnesty International granted him a special award for his role as a journalist and an activist.

Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme director Said Boumedouha condemned the killing, saying that Khiwani’s "despicable killing today smacks of a politically motivated assassination."

The rights organisation called for a quick investigation of the "despicable killing of a leading journalist and activist," saying that Khiwani had a history of being harassed for his "outspoken journalism and peaceful activism."

His assassination is the latest in a series of political assassinations in Sanaa, many of which have targeted Houthi leaders. They were all killed by gunmen on motorbikes .

Unlike previous incidents, Khaiwani's widely condemned assassination took place at a time when the capital is under Houthi control.

With additional reporting by Anadoly and AFP.