Skip to main content

Houthis free Yemeni presidential chief-of-staff

Return of Bin Mubarak suggests Houthis are negotiating behind the scenes after president's resignation last week
Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak was seized from a Sanaa checkpoint on 17 January (AA)

Houthis in control of Yemen’s capital have freed President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s chief of staff on Tuesday evening after they kidnapped him on 17 January, according to a source in Hadi’s office.

"The Houthis freed bin Mubarak this evening and handed him over to tribal leader Sheikh Awad al-Wazir," a source in the president's office told Anadolu Agency.

Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, who has been in charge of a “national dialogue” set up after veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced from power in February 2012, was seized enroute to a meeting in Sanaa.

In the 10 days that bin Mubarak has been held captive, the country has been plunged into turmoil.

A day after his kidnapping, Houthis surrounded the presidential palace in the capital and held Hadi under virtual arrest. Then last Thursday, an hour after his prime minister and Yemen’s cabinet offered their resignations, the president announced that he was stepping down.

Soon after the resignation, as many analysts speculated Hadi would be persuaded to return to his position, Yemen’s speaker of parliament, Yahia al-Rai, refused to accept the president’s resignation and called for an emergency parliamentary session to discuss the resignation.

The session has been postponed twice, casting some doubts upon the idea that Hadi would soon come back.

The return of bin Mubarak, which has apparently been delayed on Tuesday as the result of a disagreement over the location of his delivery, suggests the Houthis are negotiating behind the scenes in the wake of the power vacuum this past week’s events have created.

"Shabwa tribesmen insist that the Houthis return bin Mubarak to the place he was abducted or deliver him to his tribe, which the Houthis reject," the source in Hadi’s office said.
Mubarak, a southerner, has a strong support base in country’s formerly autonomous southern region that is once again renewing its calls for secession. 

Last October, Hadi named Mubarak as his prime minister, but Mubarak turned down the job following strong opposition from the Houthis and from Saleh's party, the GPC. Many Houthis said at the time that their rejection of his candidacy was not personal, but they felt he was not a "consensus candidate" and was seen as too close to the West.

The Houthis are widely believed to be backed by Saleh.

The UN Security Council in November imposed sanctions - including a visa ban and asset freeze - on Saleh and two Houthi commanders for threatening peace.