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'Death of political solution': Yemen's Houthis vow to avenge death of top leader

Saleh al-Samad was number two on the Saudi-led coalition’s most-wanted list before he was killed in an air strike last week
Armed Houthi supporters protest against US support for Saudi in Sanaa in May 2017 (Reuters)

SANAA - Several Houthi leaders and members of the political council on Monday strongly condemned the death of Saleh al-Samad, head of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, by an air strike last Thursday in Hodeidah on Yemen’s west coast.

The current Houthi leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, said in a televised speech on Monday that Samad’s death will have severe consequences.

"This crime will not pass without punishment; neither this nor other crimes like the targeting of a wedding in Hajjah province that left dozens dead and injured," al-Houthi said.

Al-Houthi said that the US and the Saudi Arabia are responsible for Samad's death.

Saleh al-Samad, head of the Houthi supreme political council, in August 2016 (Reuters)
Samad was number two on the coalition’s most-wanted list and the coalition had offered $20m for any information that would lead to his capture.

Mohammed al-Dailami, a Houthi-affiliated political analyst, told Middle East Eye that the group may make good on its threats.

"Today, Yemenis fired two ballistic missiles towards Aramco in Saudi Arabia," Dailami said, referencing the country’s oil company.

The Houthi Council of National Defence announced a state of alert following Samad’s death and threatened to retaliate.

Samad's history

Samad was born in 1979 in the Houthi stronghold of Sa'ada's Sahar near the Saudi border. Samad graduated from Sanaa University and studied Islamic theology in Sa'ada. He was a student of Badr al-Deen al-Houthi, believed to have kickstarted the Houthi rebellion in 2004.

Samad helped wage the last three Houthi rebellions against the provincial government in Sa'ada, during which the government designated him one of 55 most-wanted Houthis.

When he was part of the insurgency in 2007, Samad lost two brothers and warplanes destroyed his house.

Within Houthi circles, Samad established himself as a fearless fighter and a rising political star.

He worked as a teacher in Saada province and held several political leadership positions until he headed the Houthi Political Council in 2011.

The death of Samad means the death of a political solution

- Ibrahim al-Siragi, Houthi political analyst

When the Houthis took over Sanaa in 2014, they nominated him as an adviser to President Abdu Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, according to the Peace and National Partnership Agreement, which was the power-sharing unity government between Yemen’s previous ruling government and the Houthis.

In November 2014, Samad endorsed several of Hadi’s cabinet appointments despite Houthi opposition.

When the unity government fell apart in early 2015, allowing the Houthis to take over the entire government, Samad maintained his role as a “senior Houthi leader” and Hadi launched a military campaign against the Houthis with the help of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The conflict has so far resulted in at least 10,000 deaths and a cholera epidemic that has affected more than a million people.

Hadi groups celebrate

Pro-Hadi activists welcomed Samad’s death, considering it a blow to the Houthis.

Yemen’s exiled government called his death “a painful blow to the Houthis that will shroud their political and military state with confusion," spokesman Rageh Badi told al-Riyadh newspaper.

He said that Samad's death sends a clear message to Houthi leaders that "Iranian terrorism" will lead to their demise.

Top Houthi political leader killed in Saudi coalition air strike
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"Samad's death is a rejection of the coup and a victory to the country. In his last days, Samad visited several provinces, inciting for war and destruction, calling for the targeting of the Red Sea and international water passages," he added.

Another Houthi political analyst based in Sanaa, Ibrahim al-Siragi, told MEE that Samad’s death may be a loss for the Houthis, but it will not deter them from pushing ahead with their plan.

"When [former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh] was killed, his supporters stopped fighting and disappeared from the frontline, but this did not happen with the fighters of [the Houthis]," he said.

Siragi added that Samad’s death may intensify the conflict.

“The death of Samad means the death of a political solution," he said.