Notorious for his crimes against Yemen's population, Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, leader of the Houthi militia, failed in his bid to gain control of the country and instead implemented a reign of terror.
Al-Houthi was born in the northern province of Saada, near the Yemen-Saudi border. Although there are no official records to confirm his date of birth, it is believed that he was born during the late 1970s or early 1980s.
His father, Badreddin Al-Houthi, was a religious scholar of Yemen’s minority Zaydi sect, a Shiite minority with different beliefs from the Shiites who dominate in Iran and Iraq.
Al-Houthi is the youngest among eight brothers, and is believed to have lived part of his life with his family in Qom, Iran — however, Arab News cannot independently confirm this.
There are no official records to confirm whether he had any formal education in Yemen. Reports claim that he was educated by his father from an early age.
The Houthi militia, known as Ansar Allah, was founded by Al-Houthi’s older brother Hussein in the early 1990s, who called it the “Believing Youth” organization.
Hussein, a former member of parliament, and also a military and religious leader, strengthened the Houthis’ power to advance the interests of Zaydi Shiites in Yemen.
The Zaydis ruled Yemen for centuries until 1962, when a revolution backed by Egypt overthrew the king (referred to as the ruling imam by Yemenis) and established an Arab nationalist government with its capital in Sanaa.
The Houthi slogan “God is great, death to the America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam,” was adopted by the militia after the 2003 Iraq war, according to Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution.
Al-Houthi became the leader of the militia in 2005 after the death of his father and brother. He shares the ideology of his brother Hussein, who is believed to have been inspired by the Iranian revolution and saw the US and Israel as the primary enemy of Muslims. Some believe that, for him, the Yemeni Zaydi were to be the leaders of the coming revolution in Yemen. Many in Yemen believe that the Houthis are fighting to restore a state similar to the one in existence before 1962.
Little is known about Al-Houthi, who rarely appears in public, despite being the leader of the militia. Most of his speeches are delivered through the Houthi TV channel, Al-Masirah, and occasionally on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station. He refuses to give interviews to media due to his concern over security and is believed to frequently change safe houses in Saada, the Houthi stronghold.
Amid political turmoil following the 2011 uprising in Yemen, Al-Houthi and his followers invaded the capital in September 2014 and overthrew the internationally recognized, democratically elected government. This led to an escalation of tensions between the government and the Houthis, leading to the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s intervention to return the legitimate government to power.
Iran is believed to back Al-Houthi in his struggle to stay in power. Aside from sending advanced weapons, Tehran has hinted at sending military advisers to the Houthis. Investigations have also found that Houthi missiles used to target Saudi Arabia were supplied by Iran. A US official said that the Farsi writing found on the side of the missiles belonged to Iran.
Since establishing a foothold in northern Yemen, the Houthis and those loyal to them have broken international laws and committed 27,607 violations against civilians, according to Yemen’s Human Rights center.
Al-Houthi ordered the rebels to advance south in 2015, with the aim to take full occupation of Yemen and to capture the fleeing president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
In the process, the Houthis placed Taiz under a siege, and targeted civilian areas with mortar shells and snipers, killing dozens of civilians. In Aden, dozens trying to flee heavy fighting were killed when their boat was struck by shells fired by Houthi militia as it left the Al-Tawahi district.
Other crimes committed by the Houthis includes the planting of an estimated 1 million mines claiming hundreds of civilian lives, the Saudi Project for Landmine Clearance (MASAM) in Yemen said.
The US and UN imposed sanctions on Al-Houthi on April 14, 2015, for threatening Yemen’s stability. On June 8, the EU imposed an arms embargo and further targeted sanctions against the Houthi leader.
Aside from their anti-American and anti-Semitic slogans, the Houthis’ intolerance has led to the detention of numerous foreign nationals, as well as Yemenis. In 2018, Human Rights Watch condemned the militia for “frequently taking hostages and committing other serious abuses against people in their custody.”
The Houthis have been accused of expelling or restricting members of the rural Yemeni Jewish community in northern Yemen. Reports of abuse include Houthi supporters bullying or attacking the country’s Jewish community.
Rabbi Yahya Youssuf Salem, head of the Jewish community in Yemen, told Yemen Today TV (via the Internet) on Jan. 22, 2013, that in 2007 the Jews left their hometown in Saada “because of the threats (they) were getting from the Houthis.”
“They took our homes, our lands and our cars. They even took my historical library,” Salem said.
On Baha’i community
The Houthis have been accused of detaining, torturing and arresting members of the Baha’i community.
In a speech aired on Al-Masirah TV on March 23, 2018, Al-Houthi accused followers of the faith of being “satanic” and agents for the Western countries.
In 2013, Houthis detained Hamed Bin Haydara, a Baha’i leader in Yemen, and charged him with espionage and apostasy. Dozens of other Baha’i followers held by the Houthis have also been tried on charges the minority says are false.
“A Houthi court in Sanaa has also given 22 Baha’is the same charge as Haydara, most of the defendants have been imprisoned and spent years in detention since the rebels took over Sanaa,” the Yemeni Initiative for Defending the Rights of Baha’is said.
On child soldiers
In December 2018, a senior Houthi military official acknowledged to Associated Press that the militia had inducted 18,000 child soldiers into their army since the beginning of the war in 2014.
Children as young as 10 have been found fighting on the front lines of the conflict in Yemen. Those who try to flee are recaptured and forced to continue fighting, a former child soldier told the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations.
Samah Hadid, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Beirut regional office, said that Houthi forces were “taking children away from their parents and their homes, stripping them of their childhood to put them in the line of fire where they could die.”
On threats to foreign states
During an address on Al-Masirah TV on Oct. 31, 2016, Al-Houthi claimed that one of his “greatest fears is that Israel and the US, the Jews and the Zionists may target the Kaaba” in Makkah. However, on July 27, 2017, Saudi air defense forces intercepted a ballistic missile launched by the Houthis toward the holy city.
In a speech on Al-Masirah TV in 2016, Al-Houthi claimed that he feared for the safety of Makkah, yet a year later in an address also aired by Al-Masirah TV on Sept. 14, 2017, the Houthi leader said that Yemenis should take their cue from North Korea in focusing on the development of missiles. He said that the Houthi missile force, drones, anti-aircraft systems and navy, would like to launch intensive missile attacks on Saudi Arabia.
“To have rockets that could reach far beyond Riyadh, this is a great achievement. There is great work.”
During the same address, he also threatened the UAE.
“In this same Hijri month, the missile force was able to carry out an important test (on) a missile with a range reaching Abu Dhabi in the UAE. This happened on the eighth of this Hijri month. The missile force was able to conduct this experiment, and it was a successful one. And work is underway in full swing, God willing, to be able to carry out targeted bombing on very important targets in the UAE.”
He also threatened countries who had economic ties with the UAE.
“All countries with economic ties to the UAE and all companies with very large investments in the UAE should not view the UAE as a safe country. This is a country, from now on, could come under rocket and missile attacks for important targets.”
On targeting international waters
During an address aired by Al-Masirah TV on Sept. 14, 2017, the Houthi leader threatened international shipping lines.
“We have the capability to launch attacks not only at Bab El-Mandeb Strait, but anywhere in the Red Sea, along the Yemeni shore and all the way to the Saudi shore. We are capable of doing this. We can even reach the shores of some African countries.”
In addition to the recruitment of child soldiers, the Houthis also have begun indoctrinating children with hatred for the US and Jews.
School books have been printed with familiar slogans of the Iranian regime and the Houthi Ansar Allah movement, such as “death to America,” “death to Israel,” “America is the Great Satan,” “curse the Jews,” “victory for Islam,” and “we are Ansar Allah.”
Poems have been printed in school books to stress a willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of Allah, Muhammad and Islam.
The poems include lines such as: “We are men always willing to sacrifice our souls for our Lord, the Lord of the Worlds … We have risked our lives for Allah’s religion … We shall continue to be jihad fighters.”
Al-Houthi is the leader of a militia that has violated several international human rights laws, threatening the lives of the very people he says he leads and protects. His militia has used extreme force and violence to grip parts of the country and take control by inflicting fear. Should the Houthis — a militia that believes it has the right to rule without a democratic election, that uses education to radicalize children and spread hatred, and that shows no sign of tolerance toward others — ever be part of Yemen’s future?