Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Shi’ite Houthi movement has set free a senior Yemeni intelligence official it had been holding hostage, after mediation efforts by Oman, Yemeni security officials said on Monday.
Maj. Gen. Yehya Al-Marani, head of internal security at Yemen’s intelligence service, was abducted on December 25 after 20 gunmen from the group stormed his home in Sana’a.
Marani was previously the head of police intelligence in Saada, the Houthis’ northern stronghold.
The group had been demanding that Marani be removed from his position and replaced by Maj. Gen. Abdul Qadir Al-Shami.
Reports suggest Shami has links with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, whom many have accused of aiding the Houthi advance across Yemen since September.
Following Marani’s abduction, the Houthis then announced they would not release him until their demands for his replacement had been met.
Marani’s son, Mohamed, told Asharq Al-Awsat that despite the Yemeni government eventually agreeing to Houthi demands to replace Marani with Shami, the Shi’ite group had “still delayed his release.”
He said Omani intelligence had helped secure Maj. Gen. Marani’s release after the head of Yemen’s intelligence service, Hamoud Khaled Al-Sufi, directly requested their intervention to help resolve the matter.
The mediation efforts were coordinated by Abdul Karim Al-Iryani, special adviser to Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, he said, and Omani intelligence had also made contact with its counterpart in Tehran as part of the negotiations.
He said his father had not been harmed or physically tortured during his 19-day abduction, but that he had been questioned thoroughly by his captors on several security matters.
Since the Houthis took control of Sana’a in September, members of the group have been storming the residences of tribal leaders and security, political and military figures unsympathetic to their cause.
Meanwhile, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, a Yemeni political source—who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to brief the media—said the Houthis had now taken over Yemen’s second-largest commercial bank, CAC Bank, in Sana’a, and had begun appointing senior officials there.
The group has already reportedly taken over several of the country’s institutions and government buildings in Sana’a, including the central bank.
The Houthis took control over the capital and then other parts of the country in September amid a noticeable security vacuum following a month-long series of protests and sit-ins in Sana’a demanding the formation of a new government and a restoration of fuel subsidies, which the government had slashed as a cost-cutting measure amid serious economic problems.
A Peace and Partnership agreement was signed with the government shortly after, calling for an end to violence, but some suggest the Houthis have not abided by the agreement by failing to withdraw their fighters from Sana’a and other Yemeni cities.
As well as expanding to other areas of Yemen outside their traditional stronghold in the north along the Saudi border, fighters loyal to the movement are currently on the borders of Ma’rib province, the country’s main oil, gas and electricity hub.
Sources in the province told Asharq Al-Awsat thousands of members of the region’s tribes were now stationed at the border in anticipation of the Houthi advance and would not accept the group’s presence in their province.
The province has also been in the media spotlight this week in connection to last week’s terrorist attack on the offices of the Paris-based satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, after Yemeni sources told Reuters news agency that the two brothers who carried out the attack had received terrorist training in the province from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
On Sunday, the news agency quoted two anonymous Yemeni sources as saying that Cherif and Said Kouachi had both traveled to Ma’rib in the summer of 2011 to attend desert training camps run by AQAP, after crossing into Yemen from Oman.
In addition to receiving training in the use of firearms, the sources added that the Kouachi brothers had also met with the notorious AQAP recruiter Anwar Al-Awlaki.
Awlaki, who held joint US–Yemeni citizenship, was killed in a US drone strike on September 30, 2011.