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Targeting Journalists in Aden: Culprits and Goals?


Sat, 25-06-2022 02:29 PM, Aden

*Ibrahim Ali (South24)

On June 22nd, the Southern city of Aden witnessed the second operation of targeting another media figure. This came months after the operation that hit journalist Mahmoud Al-Atmi while accompanying his wife and their newborn by using the same method.
Between Mahmoud Al-Atmi and Saber Al-Haidari operations, a third one targeted the Commander of Al-Anad Axis and the 131st Infantry Brigade, Major General Thabet Muthanna Jawas in the city of Al-Khadra between Lahj and Aden that led to his death.
The way by which the three operations were carried out indicates that one party stands behind them. The question here is what is the identity of this party?
It is important to notice that the operations were implemented by using explosive or adhesive devices. No party has yet claimed responsibility for them. However, these two points may be the most important commonalities among the three operations and serve as evidence that could lead to locating or predicting the culprit's identity.

Since AQAP has been the most active party in launching operations in Aden during past years, it can be suspected as a possible culprit. However, the possibilities of AQAP's involvement in these operations are little for many reasons as shown below: 
A part from military commander Jawas, it is unlikely that the two aforementioned journalists were among the AQAP's targets. The organization didn't carry out such a form of operations against Yemeni journalists. 
Moreover, the AQAP used to claim responsibility for the operations it carried out by issuing quick statements or as part of subsequent general publications. This is despite the AQAO has rich records of implementing operations against other parties with the same degree of ugliness or more. 
It is important to notice here that the AQAP previously killed kidnapped American journalist Luke Somers [1] while the US forces were trying to save him through an airdrop operation in the Southern governorate of Shabwa in December 2014. The AQAP issued a statement that included the details of the operation. 
Furthermore, the AQAP Kidnapped Yemeni journalist Mohammed Qaid Al-Muqri in October 2015 during the latter's participation in a demonstration that called for kicking militants out of the city of Al-Mukalla, Hadramout's capital. He is still a hostage to the AQAP.

Although ISIS has a larger circle of targeted people in comparison to the AQAP, its activities in Aden have stopped since 2020. Before that, ISIS implemented several operations inside the city against figures affiliated with security and military bodies and others who have bold religious ideas. 
The halting of ISIS activities in Aden is attributed to the end of its presence in the city generally since 2021. Actually, its presence there was limited to a small group depleted by confrontations against the AQAP between 2017-2020. The remnants of ISIS were eliminated by a Houthi attack on Wald Al-Rabi' district in the same governorate.
Even if one assumes that there is an ongoing presence of small cells affiliated with ISIS, it is unlikely to carry out operations without claiming its responsibility. Because of its weak power and influence in Yemen, ISIS is supposed to be very keen to claim responsibility for any operations it has carried out.

Houthi fingerprint

During past years, the Houthis carried out several violations against hundreds of Yemeni journalists. These violations varied between killing, detention, torture, chasing, seizing properties, and issuing cruel verdicts.
Currently, there are several detained Yemeni journalists in the group's prisons, including four who were sentenced to death after being accused of espionage with foreign parties. Outside areas controlled by them, the Houthis apply pressure and threat policy against opponent journalists.
A journalist who lives outside Yemen told "South24" that the Houthis sent him anonymous messages in which they threatened to harm his relatives. This pushed him to stop writing about them. He added: "I lost the freedom of writing my opinion as to if I live in areas controlled by the Houthis".
However, this policy has apparently developed into assassination operations as the Houthi hands are extended to Yemeni areas which are not controlled by the group. Before targeting Al-Atmi, the Houthis chased and threatened him and tried to pressure him through his relatives according to several reports. As for Al-Haidari, he left Sanaa in 2017 after being harassed by the Houthis.
Formal accusations 

The Interior Ministry accused the Houthis of being behind Al-Atmi and Al-Haidari operations. Commenting [3] on Al-Haidari's assassination, the ministry repeated what it previously said after targeting Al-Atmi. It said that "the terrorist crime carries a Houthi fingerprint regarding eliminating rivals and journalists". Meanwhile, the Information Ministry accused the Houthis of being behind the Al-Haidari operation. The Yemeni Ministry of Information, Moammar Al-Eryani, stressed that the Houthis are involved in killing Al-Haidari.

Although the investigation of Al-Haidari assassination is still running, there is a semi-consensus in the official Yemeni circles and others about the Houthi involvement in the process.
Jawas assassination
One can't talk about Al-Atmi and Al-Haidari's assassination in Aden without recalling targeting Major General Thabet Muthanna Jawas. Along with the form and substance resemblance between the three operations, the Houthi jubilation towards the Jawas operation denotes that the group is its mastermind. Hours after the operation, the Head of the Houthi Prisoners Affairs Committee, Abdulqadir Al-Murtadha published a photo of Jawas on his official Twitter account. He commented by publishing a Quranic verse that says "Indeed We, from the criminals, will take retribution". Analysts consider this an implicit confession of carrying out the assassination operation. It is worth mentioning that what Abdulqadir Al-Murtadha said was one of the dozens of comments issued by Houthi commanders as a kind of schadenfreude. The hypothesis that the Houthis are involved in assassinating Jawas is enhanced by the fact that the AQAP has not yet claimed responsibility for it although months have passed since its implementation. The AQAP is the party which has been usually accused after each operation that targeted a military or a security commander. 
The assassination of Jawas was probably be carried out without direct or indirect Houthi tools, especially since there is a collusion between the group and many parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the AQAP. What happened in Al-Bayda revealed the close relationship between the AQAP and the Houthis according to an AQAP dissident who spoke previously to "South24".  It can be said that it is the only case that won't be claimed by the AQAP even if the group implemented it. However, the Houthis remain its main planner driven by their motive to take revenge from Jawas. Although cell members who were arrested in early June by anti-terrorism units in Aden admitted they carried out the operation without more details.
More dangerous than operations

Security and intelligence failure to prevent the occurrence of such operations may be more dangerous than targeting Journalists and military commanders in Aden as well as the failure to reach the main culprits. If this continues, the operations will be going on and the interim capital could be transformed into an unsafe hotbed.
It seems that the Houthis are the only party who is interested in cultivating this image about Aden. This is likely the main goal behind eliminating opponent journalists inside this city in particular although they don't represent an important number in the conflict.
The frequency of these operations can likely increase over the incoming period as the Houthis who are nominally restricted by the UN truce will resort to such form of security operations to substitute for halting their drone and ballistic missile operations as part of their military battle.

Ibrahim Ali is a pseudonym of a researcher specialized in armed groups affairs. He demanded anonymity for personal reasons.


[1] Hagel: AQAP killed journalist Luke Somers in Yemen (


[3] The Minister of Interior ordered an investigation of the circumstances of the bombing that targeted journalist Al-Haidari - (

[4] A Yemeni minister suggests that the Houthis are responsible for the assassination of a female journalist (

Aden journalistsAssassination atteNabil AlQuaitiAdenJournalismHouthis