Counter-Terrorism: The Shia Rebellion in Yemen

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May 9,2008: The Shia Islamic militants of northern Yemen are on the warpath again. In the last week, the Islamic rebels bombed a Mosque full of soldiers, and killed 18 worshippers (most of them soldiers). The army responded by going after places where the rebels live, and another two dozen people, mainly tribal rebels, died. The Shia rebels want to restore local Shia rule in northern Yemen. This rule was shut down by the central government in 1962.

The Shia of Yemen are not mainstream Shia, but a sect called the Zaydis. There are about a million of them in Yemen, and they dominate the northern part of the country. Overall, about fifteen percent of the 19 million people in Yemen, are Shia. The rest are mainstream Sunni. In nearby Saudi Arabia, Shia are considered heretics. The bin Laden family are Sunnis from Yemen, and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda has been brutal in its persecution of Shias. Ironically, the Sunni dominated government of Yemen is quite pro-American, while the Shia, particularly the several hundred thousand followers of al Houthi, are very anti-American. While al Qaeda are present in Yemen, rebellious Shia like the al Houthi crowd, are considered a much bigger domestic problem.

The battles with the Shia tribesmen have been going on since 1962, but have been more intense in the last four years. For the last two years, things have been relatively quiet, but in 2005, nearly a thousand troops and tribesmen died, while in 2004 some 400 died. There have been several truces, but the al Houthi supporters keep breaking them. The rebels keep demanding more concessions from the government (which is a coalition of Shia and Sunni groups). What is ironic about all this is that the president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is a Zaidi. But the rebels consider Saleh a traitor for dealing with the Sunni majority.

 


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