JEDDAH: Saleh Al-Sammad, the second in command of the Houthi militia, was killed last week in an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition, the Iran-allied militia confirmed on Monday.
Al-Sammad, head of the Houthis’ so-called Supreme Political Council, was killed in the eastern province of Hodeida on Thursday, the militia announced in a statement published on the Houthi-run Saba news agency.
He was second only to Houthi leader Abdel Malek Al-Houthi on the coalition’s most-wanted list. A $20 million reward had been offered for any information leading to Al-Sammad's capture.
His death deals a major blow to the Shiite militias, who have been fighting the coalition-backed pro-government forces since March 2015.
At the beginning of April, Al-Sammad described 2018 as “the year of ballistic excellence,” referring to missiles the militias fired across the border.
Since November, the Houthis have launched several ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia that were intercepted by anti-aircraft defenses.
In an interview with a local TV channel, Baligh Al-Mekhlafi, a Yemeni journalist and a political researcher and an information counselor at the Yemeni Embassy in Cairo, said he believes the elimination of Al-Sammad will definitely trigger havoc and collapse in the Houthi ranks, given the status of the rebel.
He said the delay in the announcement of the killing reflects the magnitude of the loss to the militias and the effect it will have on their fighters.
“This is a qualitative operation, which indicates the high intelligence efforts of the collation after they succeeded in snatching the second in command of the Houthi militias,” he said.
“The Houthis opted to wait until they rearranged their ranks and found a replacement. We have confirmed reports that Mahdi Al-Shammat is succeeding Al-Sammad.”
Al-Mekhlafi added that the Houthis were keen to ensure another tribal member replaced Al-Sammad to secure the support of Yemeni tribes which, he said, has been declining recently due to the huge losses incurred by the Houthi militias.
Al-Houthi looked defeated and pale when he appeared on TV to announce the killing, soon after media outlets started reporting Al-Sammad’s demise.
“This is a very significant development — one that will change the course of the war in Yemen,” said Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Riyadh-based Saudi political analyst and international-relations scholar. “This was their No. 2 man.”
He added that Al-Houthi “looked weak” during his TV appearance.
“It is over for them (the Houthis),” said Al-Shehri. "They thought they would get away by firing those missiles at Saudi Arabia.”
He said the killing of Al-Sammad should serve as a warning to Iran “that Saudi Arabia will hunt its enemies wherever they hide.”
Al-Shehri said the strike proved that the Kingdom retains the capacity to take out its enemies — "however big they are and however strong their allies."