Sana’a and Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s Defense Minister Gen. Mahmoud Al-Subaihi has fled the Yemeni capital Sana’a, currently under the control of the Shi’ite Houthi movement, to the southern port city of Aden.
The news is another blow for the Houthis after Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is seeking to form a rival power base from the country’s south, escaped a Houthi-imposed house arrest last month, also by heading to Aden.
In a statement on Sunday evening, Subaihi, whose home had been heavily guarded by Houthi militias, said he left Sana’a at noon on Saturday in a convoy with the help of aides and local tribes from Ma’rib, where the convoy was headed.
After arriving at the central province Subaihi’s convoy headed to Al-Hudaydah, while another took a different route to neighboring Dhamar in a ruse designed to mislead any Houthi rebels who had managed to follow Subaihi’s route out of the capital.
Sources speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat said news of Subaihi’s escape and imminent arrival in Aden had spread as he was en route to the southern city, which led to security measures being beefed up to secure his arrival.
Subaihi eventually arrived in Aden in the early hours of Sunday via the neighboring southern province of Lahj. Photographs released of him at his residence there show him shaking hands or sitting with visitors while dressed in traditional, though non-local, attire, fueling speculation he escaped Sana’a using a disguise.
An informed source speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat said that after learning of Subaihi’s escape, Houthi rebels stormed his residence in Sana’a, killing one of his bodyguards and kidnapping 30 aides.
The source said the Houthis then relayed the information to their aides in Al-Hudaydah, where a checkpoint was formed on the route between the province and Sana’a in a bid to recapture the general, but this was ultimately foiled due to Subaihi’s convoy taking an alternative route to the province.
On Sunday evening the Houthis’ Security Committee released a statement warning that Subaihi’s escape could lead to a “region-wide conflict” and called on all political factions in Yemen to unite against a “conspiracy” to destabilize the country.
Subaihi, a highly decorated general in the Yemeni army, was appointed defense minister in November of 2014 by former PM Khaled Bahah, who like Hadi was also forced to resign his post in January following the Houthi power grab and placed under house arrest at his home in the capital.
Subaihi’s escape will come as good news to President Hadi, who on February 21 also escaped from Sana’a to Aden, after being forced to resign his post and held under house arrest by the Houthis.
Hadi has since rescinded his resignation and sources say he now considers Aden the capital of Yemen after the Houthi takeover of Sana’a in September of 2014.
A Yemeni source speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity said Subaihi’s presence in Aden will be a major plus for Hadi, and comes when other officials from throughout the country are also heading to the southern port city to bolster Hadi’s efforts against the Houthis.
Hadi is looking to build a rival power base from the south to oppose what he has referred to as the Houthi “coup.”
The Shi’ite movement, believed to be receiving support from Iran, effectively took over the reins of power in January after they announced a “constitutional declaration.”
It tasked the Houthis to form of a new government and an interim presidential council to run the country’s affairs in Hadi’s absence—who by then had been forced to resign and placed under house arrest.
Hadi is also looking to regional allies, especially Yemen’s Sunni Gulf neighbors, to aid his political offensive against the Houthis, whom many, including reportedly Hadi himself, accuse of carrying out an Iranian agenda which sees Tehran strengthening its influence in the Sunni-dominated Arabian Peninsula.
Key Gulf ally Saudi Arabia on Sunday responded to a call from Hadi to hold a conference on Yemen in the Saudi capital Riyadh under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The Kingdom and other regional allies, as well as the United States and Britain, have all moved their embassies in Yemen from Sana’a to Aden in recent weeks.