Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Houthi fighters continued to advance across Yemen on Wednesday and Thursday, storming a government building in the capital Sana’a amid fears of sectarian violence and a breakdown of the fragile truce between President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government and the Shi’ite militia.
Houthi militants stormed Yemen’s Interior Ministry in Sana’a on Wednesday, expelling staff working in the office of the deputy minister for financial affairs, a source in the Ministry told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “The Houthis forcibly ejected two employees who were dismissed over allegations of corruption and selling information during the time when Abdul Qader Qahtan was interior minister.”
The source added that Interior Minister Abdo Hussein Al-Tarb has not attended the Ministry since Yemen’s Houthis took over the capital of Sana’a in September, rejecting a call from President Hadi to remain as interior minister in any new government.
Wednesday’s developments come amid confusion over the extent to which Sana’a is cooperating with the Houthis, who are continuing to advance in a number of other Yemeni provinces while meeting little or no resistance from government forces.
Meanwhile, well-informed Yemeni sources told Asharq Al-Awsat Iranian culture centers are being established in Yemeni provinces under Houthi control, including Hajjah province which borders Saudi Arabia, with the objective of spreading Shi’ism.
The move comes after Sudan ordered the closure of Iranian cultural centers across the country, claiming the centers had sought to make “Shi’ite sectarian gains that are alien to Sudanese society,” according to Interior Minister Ali Karti. In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir confirmed that the centers had been seeking to proselytize in Sudan. There are fears the Iranian cultural centers in Yemen could seek to carry out a similar function.
Ibrahim Al-Shamali, a senior administrative officer in Yemen’s Hajjah governorate, told Asharq Al-Awsat he strongly rejected the agreement that led to the Houthi movement entering the province and taking up security tasks that should fall under the authority of Yemen’s security and military forces.
He accused Hajjah governorate chief Ali Al-Qaisi of authorizing Shi’ite Houthi militiamen to undertake security tasks in the strategically important province that borders Saudi Arabia, adding that this represented a dangerous precedent disputing government authority.
The Houthi advance into Hajjah is part of broader attempts to infiltrate Yemen’s military and security apparatus, opponents of the group say. The Shi’ite militia is also training its fighters in military bases it has seized from government forces, including the Al-Farqa base in western Sana’a.
“Since they took over Al-Farqa base, they have been conducting daily military exercises for hundreds of recruits,” a local resident told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Yousef Al-Haimi, who lives in the Sana’a district of Al-Nahda close to the base, said: “They utilize loudspeakers very early in the morning as part of these training exercises while when the former [government] troops that were based out of Al-Farqa carried out [their] training, it never reached the ears of the surrounding residents.”
He claimed the Houthis were seeking to impose their position on Sana’a, in addition to training its members as part of a broader objective to infiltrate the country’s security and military apparatus.
“Dozens of Houthis, wearing the uniform of the Republican Guard, have been stationed in areas close to the residence of President Hadi, as well as the districts around Sana’a University and elsewhere,” another eyewitness said.
A Yemeni security source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said the Shi’ite group is seeking to send as many as 20,000 of its members to join the Yemeni military.
Yemeni Houthi fighters have been seen wearing government uniforms in and around Sana’a, although local media reported that Houthi fighters in military uniform remain distinguishable from other military personal as the Houthis are often adorned with visible pro-Houthi political stickers on their rifles and uniforms.