Designed by ‘South24 Center’

Have the Houthis Penetrated Al-Mahra?


Sat, 23-03-2024 05:26 PM, Aden

“There are parties that work against Al-Mahra and its security. Some of them have close ties with the Houthis.”

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24)

On March 3, activists circulated a video featuring dozens of persons, including gunmen, in the city of Al-Ghayda in Al-Mahra Governorate, chanting the so-called Houthi “scream” slogan belonging to the Iran-backed militia. They also chanted “Death to America and Israel” during a solidarity pro-Gaza rally.

The video brought to surface again questions about the Houthi presence in Al-Mahra, which is geographically close to Oman. This is amid the Houthi efforts over the past months to stir emotional, religious and national sentiments to gain the sympathy of people by exploiting the Israeli war on Gaza and the Palestinian cause.

Years ago, these urgent questions were raised amid growing indications about Houthi influence in Al-Mahra through some tribal figures. This is in addition to concerns expressed by elites in Al-Mahra and South Yemen regarding the Houthi’s links with the Northern forces’ military since before 2015 in the governorate, as in the case of the 1st Military District in Wadi Hadramout.1

Moreover, the 300-km-long shared geographical border between Al-Mahra and Oman, which hosts Houthi political delegations and maintains a strong relationship with the group, is another factor enhancing these questions and concerns. Additionally, Al-Mahra is considered a main path for the supply and smuggling of weapons to the Houthis and probably to other groups, as has been revealed many times over the past years.

Have the Houthis penetrated Al-Mahra?

An official in the local authority of Al-Mahra told ‘South24 Center’, on condition of anonymity as he isn't authorized to speak to the media, that “Al-Ghayda, the capital of the governorate, witnessed a pro-Gaza rally in which the Houthi slogan was chanted.” He didn’t give further details.

Commenting on what happened, Al-Mahra's Security Chief Brigadier General Mufti Suhail Samouda told ‘South24 Center’: “We launched an investigation into that. It is currently under investigation. We won't allow the occurrence of such things in Al-Mahra. The circulated video is probably fabricated.”

Answering a question by ‘South24 Center’ about the incident, Secretary-General of the Local Council in Al-Mahra Governorate Salem Nimar said: “The local authority in the governorate isn’t aware of what happened.”

In this regard, Mahri journalist Hazaa Al-Salimi told ‘South24 Center’: “There are parties that work against Al-Mahra and its security. Some of them have close ties with the Houthis. As far as I know, the solidarity rally was a spontaneous one which had no political goals. However, some persons went to the forefront to deliver a message that there is a Houthi presence in Al-Mahra.”

Al-Huraizi Group 

Former Deputy Governor of Al-Mahra, Sheikh Ali Salem Al-Huraizi, leads the so-called ‘Peaceful Sit-in Committee’ in Al-Mahra which was established to call for the departure of the Saudi forces deployed in the governorate in November 2017. He is dubbed as Oman’s first man in Al-Mahra. He previously served as the Commander of the Border Guards in Al-Mahra before he was sacked in late February 2018.

It is believed that Al-Huraizi and his armed group, contrary to its name, have links with the Houthis. He has opposed the Saudi presence in Al-Mahra and criticized the Southern Transitional Council and the UAE. His speeches and the activities of his group are heavily covered by the Houthi media platforms. Some Houthi leaders such as Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti put up his photo in their social media accounts. 

Activist Mohammed Al-Mahri believes that the tribal group led by Al-Huraizi constitutes a real threat that can’t be downplayed. He told ‘South24 Center’: “This is an armed group which exploits the protection provided by the tribal system in Al-Mahra. Although the number of the group’s members does not pose a threat against the state, the worrying thing is of its allying with Yemeni or regional parties compatible with the Houthi project.”

Mujahid Bin Afrar, the head of STC’s local branch in Al-Mahra, accused the Al-Huraizi Group of being behind the rally that included chanting the Houthi slogans. He told ‘South24 Center’: “Some forces affiliated with the ‘Peaceful Sit-in Committee’ were behind what happened that day which was aimed to support the Houthi project.”

Bin Afrar warned of “unprecedented security chaos in Al-Mahra”, adding that “the Islah Party and the Houthi militia have allied with each other in the governorate to disrupt security and stability and spread chaos”. He stressed that “the STC has refused to exploit the Palestinian cause to carry out or pass distorted internal agendas”.

The Southern official expressed his astonishment at the stance of the local authority. He said: “We expected them to adopt a firm position to confront such phenomena that disrupt security and stability. However, we know that there are leaders within the local authority affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood’s viewpoint.”

The military map

Al-Mahra is considered the only Southern governorate that has no regular forces affiliated with the STC. Northern officers and military figures control the security and military situation in the governorate visited by South24 Center’s correspondent. This includes the ‘123 Infantry Brigade’ in Hat District and the ‘137 Mika Brigade’ in Al-Ghayda District. Activists from Al-Mahra said that the Northern forces have formed social incubators from the Northern displaced persons since 2015.

However, the Ghayda Military Axis is led by the Southern officer Major General Mohsen Ali Marsa' Al-Kazmi who maintains good relationship with the STC’s leaders and the Defense Minister Mohsen Al-Darei, according to an informed source who spoke to ‘South24 Center’.

In October 2021, Riyadh withdrew the biggest part of the Saudi forces that operated within the Arab Coalition. This happened simultaneously with similar withdrawals from Shabwa at that time. according to local sources. Despite these withdrawals, analysts and officials believe that Saudi Arabia still enjoys a prominent military presence in Al-Mahra due to the importance of the governorate and its location on the borders with rival Oman.

A local source close to the Al-Huraizi Group told ‘South24 Center’ that “nearly 3,000 tribal gunmen are affiliated with Al-Huraizi”. All of them receive salaries in Omani riyals on a monthly and regular basis. The source pointed out that the soldiers receive 200 Omani riyals as a monthly salary while officers receive about 500 Omani riyals.

In March 2023, ‘the Supreme Commission of Southern Army and Security’ said it held a meeting to discuss perceptions and solutions to establish the ‘Mahra Defense Forces’ by enabling the governorate’s locals to manage their own affairs and ending the Northern military’s presence there. 

So far, no force consisting of Mahri citizens has been formed. Such a force has been an ongoing matter of concern for the Houthis. Over the past year, the STC faced a series of local and regional reactions when it began calling for driving the ‘1st Military District’ out of Wadi Hadramout, as majority of its members are from North Yemen. The STC will likely face the same reaction if it begins a similar move in Al-Mahra.

1. The 1st Military District in Wadi Hadramout comprises of military forces ideologically and militarily loyal to the Islah Party, Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood 

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

Participated in editing this report:
Jacob Al-Sufyani, Director of the Regional Office of the South24 Center in Aden

Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic

South YemenAl-MahraNorth YemenHouthisLocalsDemographicNorthern forcesWadi Hadramout1st Military DistrictOman