Overview

Also Known As:

Executive Summary:

The Houthis—officially known as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God)—are an Iranian-backed, Shiite Muslim military and political movement in Yemen.Yara Bayoumy and Mohammed Ghobari, “Iranian support seen crucial for Yemen's Houthis,” Reuters, December 15, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-houthis-iran-insight-idUSKBN0JT17A20141215; Saeed Al Batati, “Who are the Houthis in Yemen?,” Al Jazeera, March 29, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/08/yemen-houthis-hadi-protests-201482132719818986.html; Zachary Laub, “Yemen in Crisis,” Council on Foreign Relations, April 19, 2016, http://www.cfr.org/yemen/yemen-crisis/p36488. Its members, who subscribe to the minority Zaidi sect of Shiite Islam, advocate regional autonomy for Zaidis in northern Yemen. The group has waged a series of bloody insurgencies against the Yemeni government since 2004, leading to that regime’s overthrow in early 2015.Associated Press, “Shiite Rebels Make New Demands to Yemen,” New York Times, August 25, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/26/world/middleeast/shiite-rebels-make-new-demands-to-yemen.html; Rod Nordland, “Rebels in Yemen Say They Intend to Form a New Government,” New York Times, February 6, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/07/world/middleeast/yemen-rebels-say-they-will-dissolve-parliament.html?_r=1. The group has since seized power, announcing the formation of a government.“Formation of new Houthi government does not help Yemen: U.N. envoy,” Reuters, November 29, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-un-idUSKBN13O2K1.

The Houthis movement began as an effort to maintain tribal autonomy in northern Yemen and protest Western influence in the Middle East. Today, the Houthis seek a greater role in the Yemeni government and continue to advocate Zaidi minority interests.“5 Things to Know About the Houthis of Yemen,” Dick Streuly, Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2015, http://blogs.wsj.com/briefly/2015/02/12/5-things-houthis-yemen/. The movement is known for its virulently anti-American and anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the group’s ubiquitous slogan: “God is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse upon the Jews! Victory to Islam!” Noah Browning and Mohammed Ghobari, “Yemen Houthis Launch ‘Martyr’ Videos to Raise Morale,” Reuters, March 9, 2015, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/03/09/uk-yemen-security-videos-idUKKBN0M51M020150309. The group has targeted U.S. citizens, kidnapping four Americans in May 2015 and releasing one in early June.Kareem Fahim, “U.S. Citizens Held in Yemen by Houthis,” New York Times, May 31, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/01/world/middleeast/us-citizens-held-in-yemen-by-houthis.html?_r=0; “Elise Labott and Khushbu Shah,” CNN, June 2, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/01/politics/yemen-four-americans-held-houthis/. Several of the group’s leaders have been designated as terrorists by the United States.“Yemen Designations,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, April 14, 2015, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20150414_33.aspx; “Treasury Sanctions Political Spoilers Threatening the Peace, Security and Stability of Yemen,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, November 10, 2014, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2693.aspx.

The Houthis’ roots trace back to the 1990s, when Houthis founder Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi created the al-Shabab al-Mumanin (Believing Youth) movement in an effort to combine religious revivalism with anti-imperialism.Adam Taylor, “Who Are the Houthis, the Group That Just Toppled Yemen’s Government?,” Washington Post, January 22, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/01/22/who-are-the-houthis-the-group-that-just-toppled-yemens-government/. The movement sought to educate local youth about Zaidism’s long history in Saada Governorate, northern Yemen.  To that end, the al-Houthi family launched a network of associations, sports clubs, and summer camps.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 6, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. The al-Houthis also sought to protect Zaidism from perceived encroachment of Salafism and Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia into northern Yemen, where Zaidism has been dominant for centuries.Farea al-Muslimi, “The Houthi Paradox,” Middle East Institute, January 16, 2014, http://www.mei.edu/content/houthi-paradox.

God is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse upon the Jews! Victory to Islam!Houthis slogan

The Houthi movement grew increasingly politically engaged in 2003, in reaction and opposition to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s support for the U.S-led war in Iraq.Zachary Laub, “Who Are Yemen’s Houthis?,” Council on Foreign Relations, February 25, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/yemen/yemens-houthis/p36178. Domestically, al-Houthi continued to seek autonomy for Saada Governorate from Yemen’s Sunni-dominated central government. Al-Houthi was killed during clashes with the Yemeni government in 2004, but the movement has continued in his name, waging a series of intermittent wars against the government and Saudi forces in the years since.Zachary Laub, “Yemen in Crisis,” Council on Foreign Relations, July 8, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/yemen/yemen-crisis/p36488.

The Houthis made significant territorial gains in 2014-2015. In September 2014, the group  captured Yemen’s capital, Sanaa,Mohammed Ghobari, “Houthis tighten grip on Yemen capital after swift capture, power-sharing deal,” Reuters, September 22, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/22/us-yemen-security-idUSKCN0HH2BQ20140922. resulting in the resignation of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi in January 2015.Mark Mazzetti and David D. Kirkpatrick, “Saudi Arabia Leads Air Assault in Yemen,” New York Times, March 25, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/26/world/middleeast/al-anad-air-base-houthis-yemen.html?_r=0; “Yemen president quits, throwing country deeper into chaos,” Reuters, January 22, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-houthis-idUSKBN0KV0HT20150122. The following month, the Houthis officially announced the dissolution of Hadi’s parliament and the institution of their interim government, known as the Supreme Revolutionary Committee (SRC).Rod Nordland, “Rebels in Yemen Say They Intend to Form a New Government,” New York Times, February 6, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/07/world/middleeast/yemen-rebels-say-they-will-dissolve-parliament.html?_r=1.

The United Nations began facilitating peace talks between the Houthis and the Yemeni government in October 2015.“Yemeni president dismisses Houthi concessions as ‘maneuver,’” Reuters, October 8, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/09/us-yemen-security-politics-idUSKCN0S21GC20151009. Concurrently, the government of Saudi Arabia held negotiations with the Houthis, beginning in March 2016 and reaching a stalemate in May.Mohammad al-Kibsi and Asa Fitch, "Saudi Arabia, Houthi Rebels Hold Direct Talks on Yemen War," Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/yemen-rebels-saudi-arabia-begin-peace-talks-to-end-nearly-year-long-war-1457520050; Haytham Mouzahem, "Yemen peace talks stuck in stalemate," Al Monitor, May 20, 2016, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/05/yemen-talks-kuwait-war-saudi-arabia-houthis-hadi-government.html. The peace talks between the Houthis and Yemeni government ended without an agreement in early August 2016, after which President Hadi’s forces launched a fresh offensive.“Yemen's Hadi launches military operation east of Sanaa, peace talks end,” Reuters, August 6, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-idUSKCN10H0B4. That month, the SRC handed its authority to the Supreme Political Council (SPC), a government body formed by the July 2016 merger between the Houthis and former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.“SRC hands over authority to SPC,” Yemen News Agency, August 15, 2016, http://sabanews.net/en/news437023.htm.

Doctrine:

Unlike Sunni extremist groups in Yemen, the Houthis adhere to Zaidism, an off-shoot of Shiism that is doctrinally distinct from mainstream “Twelver” Shiism.“Yemen Crisis: Who is Fighting Whom?,” BBC News, March 26, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29319423. While Zaidism ruled Yemen for approximately 900 years beginning in the 9th century, the country has been officially secular since 1962 when a military coup ended the rule of Imam Mohammed Al-Badr.Zachary Laub, “Yemen in Crisis,” Council on Foreign Relations, July 8, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/yemen/yemen-crisis/p36488; Asher Orkaby, “A Road Map to Chaos in Yemen,” Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2015,  http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-road-map-to-chaos-in-yemen-1428619669.

The Houthi movement has drawn attention for its anti-American, anti-Semitic slogan, “God is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse upon the Jews! Victory to Islam!”Noah Browning and Mohammed Ghobari, “Yemen Houthis Launch ‘Martyr’ Videos to Raise Morale,” Reuters (UK), March 9, 2015, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/03/09/uk-yemen-security-videos-idUKKBN0M51M020150309. While some analysts maintain that the slogan does not reflect the group’s objectives, the Houthis have issued threats against Yemen’s Jewish community and attempted to force the U.S. ambassador from Yemen to leave.Madeleine Wells, “Yemen’s Houthi movement and the revolution,” Foreign Policy, February 27, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/02/27/yemens-houthi-movement-and-the-revolution/. The Jews living in Saada were threatened by the Houthis in 2007 and forced to relocate to Sanaa, where they were living under government protection as of early 2015.Sam Sokol, “Yemen Coup Could Spell Trouble for Local Jewish Community,” Jerusalem Post, January 21, 2015, http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Yemen-coup-could-spell-trouble-for-local-Jews-388495. As of May 2015, the Houthis detained an unknown number of American nationals, freeing one the following month in early June.Kareem Fahim, “U.S. Citizens Held in Yemen by Houthis,” New York Times, May 31, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/01/world/middleeast/us-citizens-held-in-yemen-by-houthis.html?_r=0;
Elise Labott and Khushbu Shah, “One American held in Yemen released,” CNN, June 2, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/01/politics/yemen-four-americans-held-houthis/.

The Houthis have detained numerous foreign nationals, including at least five Americans. In June 2015, the Houthis released one American captive.Kareem Fahim, “U.S. Citizens Held in Yemen by Houthis,” New York Times, May 31, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/01/world/middleeast/us-citizens-held-in-yemen-by-houthis.html?_r=0; Elise Labott and Khushbu Shah, “One American held in Yemen released,” CNN, June 2, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/01/politics/yemen-four-americans-held-houthis/. On September 20, 2015, after the intercession of Oman’s government, the Houthis released three more hostages, including U.S. citizen Scott Darden, a logistics employee from Louisiana, and one other American. On November 10, 2015, U.S. officials reported that American contractor John Hamen, who had been detained sometime in October 2015, was dead. The announcement was followed by the release of three other Americans believed to be working for the United Nations.Associated Press, “3 Americans reportedly held captive in Yemen's capital freed, flown to Oman after negotiation,” U.S. News and World Report, November 19, 2015, http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/11/19/oman-news-agency-3-americans-flown-in-from-war-torn-yemen.

Organizational Structure:

The Houthi movement’s organizational structure is opaque. The movement began as a grassroots religious organization aimed at youth,Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 6, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. but over time it has entered politics and developed military capabilities. Following the killing of movement founder Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi by Yemeni forces in 2004, the Houthis were led by Hussein’s father, spiritual leader Badr al-Din al-Houthi. The movement’s current leader is Hussein’s younger brother, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi.“Yemen's Abd-al-Malik al-Houthi,” BBC News, October 3, 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/monitoring/yemens-abd-almalik-alhouthi.

Financing:

Yemeni officials have long accused Iran’s Shiite Islamist regime of providing political, financial, and logistical support to the Houthi rebels and other secessionist movements in Yemen. Despite a 2009 U.N. report confirming such claims, Iran and the Houthis have historically denied engaging in past cooperation.Carole Landry, “Iran arming Yemen's Houthi rebels since 2009: UN report,” Middle East Eye, May 1, 2015, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iran-arming-yemens-huthi-rebels-2009-un-report-1170499355. Nevertheless, other reports subsequently confirmed Iranian support, including a Reuters article in December of 2014 confirming financial backing by Tehran. One source stated, “We think there is cash, some of which is channeled via Hezbollah and sacks of cash arriving at the airport.”Yara Bayoumy and Mohammed Ghobari, “Iranian support seen crucial for Yemen’s Houthis,” Reuters, December 15, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/15/us-yemen-houthis-iran-insight-idUSKBN0JT17A20141215. Only in 2015 did Iran finally acknowledge providing “direct support” to the Houthis rebels. According one Houthi official, the group has received tens of millions of dollars from the Iranian regime in recent years.Jay Solomon, Dion Nissenbaum, and Asa Fitch, “In Strategic Shift, U.S. Draws Closer to Yemeni Rebels,” Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-strategic-shift-u-s-draws-closer-to-yemeni-rebels-1422576308. Experts place the amount of financial support from Iran at between $10 and $20 million per year, including at least one alleged payment of $3.7 million.Kellan Howell, “Iran spending billions on terrorists’ salaries: report,” Washington Times, September 5, 2015, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/sep/5/iran-spending-billions-on-terrorists-salaries-repo/;
“Yemen: Classified document reveals extent of Iranian support for Houthis,” Asharq al-Awsat, July 6, 2015, http://english.aawsat.com/2015/07/article55344262/yemen-classified-document-reveals-extent-of-iranian-support-for-houthis.

In addition to allegedly sending financial support to the Houthis, Iran also reportedly dispatches military personnel and weapons, including missiles, explosives, and small arms.Yara Bayoumy and Phil Stewart, “Exclusive: Iran steps up weapons supply to Yemen's Houthis via Oman - officials,” Reuters, October 20, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-iran-idUSKCN12K0CX. American intelligence officials have claimed that the Houthis receive considerably less support from Iran than some have alleged.Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, “U.S. Ship Off Yemen Fires Missiles at Houthi Rebel Sites,” October 12, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/world/middleeast/yemen-rebels-missile-warship.html?_r=0. Nonetheless, on March 28, 2016, the U.S. Navy reportedly intercepted weapons from Iran believed to be headed for Houthi rebels.“U.S. Navy says it seized weapons from Iran likely bound for Houthis in Yemen,” Reuters, April 4, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-usa-yemen-arms-idUSKCN0X12DB. Among the weapons intercepted were 1,500 AK-47 rifles, 200 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and 21 .50-caliber machine guns, according to Reuters.“U.S. Navy says it seized weapons from Iran likely bound for Houthis in Yemen,” Reuters, April 4, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-usa-yemen-arms-idUSKCN0X12DB.

Recruitment:

The Houthis’ primary area of recruitment is the northern provinces of Yemen, its heartland of ideological support.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 30, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. In February 2016, al-Arabiya reported that the group had expanded recruitment beyond its traditional political base by inducing “mercenaries” from African countries.“Yemeni official: Houthis recruiting African fighters,” al-Arabiya, February 29, 2016, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2016/02/29/Top-Yemeni-officials-Houthis-recruiting-mercenaries-.html. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf.

Houthi recruitment efforts inside Yemen has benefitted from the unpopularity of the Yemeni government.Sarah Phillips, “Cracks in the Yemeni System,” Middle East Research and Information Project, July 28, 2005, http://www.merip.org/mero/mero072805; Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 327, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. Since the 2011 uprising that removed President Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, the Houthis have increasingly attracted potential recruits to anti-government public protests in support of the movement.Mohammed Ghobari, Angus McDowall, “Countries backing shaky Yemen transition warn Houthis against violence,” Reuters, August 19, 2014, http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/08/19/yemen-houthis-idINKBN0GJ1IL20140819. In the summer of 2014, the group gained noticeable traction when it protested the Yemeni government’s decision to cut popular fuel subsidies. Houthi-led protests attracted tens of thousands of supporters, including not only Zaidis but also Sunnis, to Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.Mohammed Ghobari, Angus McDowall, “Countries backing shaky Yemen transition warn Houthis against violence,” Reuters, August 19, 2014, http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/08/19/yemen-houthis-idINKBN0GJ1IL20140819.

Since the 1990s, Houthi recruitment has reached out to its target Zaidi audience through social connections and networking, proselytizing through religious sermons, the dissemination of written materials, audio and videotapes, and online recruitment.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 216, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. The Houthis began paramilitary activities in 2004 and began distributing military training videos electronically and in person where possible.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 220, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf.

The Houthis have also revived local Zaidi rituals, including events where potential recruits can socialize with pro-jihadi Houthi militia men, with the intention of encouraging new recruits to join the veterans.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 254, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. A pro-Houthi youth movement called Shabab al-Sumud (Steadfast Youth) has also provided support, including by managing a tent in Maydan Taghayr (Change Square) in 2012 where members of the public could enter and watch pro-Houthi videos.Madeleine Wells, “Yemen’s Houthi movement and the revolution,” Foreign Policy, February 27, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/02/27/yemens-houthi-movement-and-the-revolution/.

The group is also active on the Internet, including on YouTube channels where it posts pro-Houthi videos, as well as web forums to promote the Houthi movement.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 219-220, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. The Houthis operate the TV channel Al Masirah,Saeed al Batati, “Violence Erupts in Yemen Capital After Weeks of Rallies,” New York Times, September 9, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/10/world/middleeast/violence-erupts-in-yemen-capital-after-weeks-of-rallies.html. which publishes pro-Houthi videos, including poems and songs.Mohammad Al-Khayat, “Houthi Poetry and Songs: Propaganda, Art or Both?,” Yemen Times (Sanaa), December 4, 2014, http://www.yementimes.com/en/1839/report/4657/Houthi-poetry-and-songs-Propaganda-art-or-both.htm. In 2007, group leader Abdel Malik founded the Al Minbar website,Ahmed Mamdou, “Abdel Malik Al Houthi: the Shiite Thorn on Yemen’s Side,” Al-Bawaba (Amman), http://www.albawabaeg.com/52258. which published press statements, editorials, speeches, videos, and images to promote its message.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 219, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf; Ahmed Mamdouh, “Abdul Malik Al Houthi: The Shiite Thorn on Yemen’s Side,” AlBawaba, March 25, 2015, http://www.albawabaeg.com/52258. The group has also released statements through website Ansar Allah (Supporters of Allah).Madeleine Wells, “Yemen’s Houthi movement and the revolution,” Foreign Policy, February 27, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/02/27/yemens-houthi-movement-and-the-revolution/. Houthi officials also maintain Twitter accounts disseminating pro-Houthi material. For example, in May 2016, Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam posted comments accusing the Yemeni government of lying and time-wasting.Mohammed Ghobari, “Yemen officials say peace talks suspended after Houthis seize base,” Reuters, May 1, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-idUSKCN0XS0WT.

Training:

The Houthis have historically trained their fighters in Yemen’s mountainous north.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 27, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. The Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has trained Houthis in Yemen and Iranian military leadership is also believed to be present in Yemen to provide strategic military advice.Yara Bayoumy and Mohammed Ghobari, “Iranian support seen crucial for Yemen’s Houthis,” Reuters, December 15, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/15/us-yemen-houthis-iran-insight-idUSKBN0JT17A20141215. In March 2015, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubair also alleged that Hezbollah operatives were advising the Houthis.Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball, “Elite Iranian guards training Yemen’s Houthis: U.S. officials,” Reuters, March 27, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/us-yemen-security-houthis-iran-idUSKBN0MN2MI20150327. In the same month, Syrian military officials were reportedly present in Yemen assisting the Houthis as well.“Syrian regime coordinates military training with Yemeni Houthis,” ARA News, March 9, 2015, http://aranews.net/2015/03/syrian-regime-coordinates-military-training-with-yemeni-houthis/.

In early 2015, U.S. officials reported that the IRGC’s training of Houthi rebels covered the use of advanced weapons, which the Houthis seized from Yemeni military bases.Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball, “Elite Iranian guards training Yemen’s Houthis: U.S. officials,” Reuters, March 27, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/us-yemen-security-houthis-iran-idUSKBN0MN2MI20150327.

Key Leaders

  • Abdul-Malik al-Houthi

    Abdul-Malik al-Houthi

    Spiritual, military, and political leader; brother of founder Hussein Badr-al-Din al-Houthi
  • Youssef al-Midani

    Deputy leader; brother-in-law of Abdul-Malik al-Houthi (reported deceased October 2015)
  • Yahia Badr-al-Din al-Houthi

    Senior leader, former lawmaker, brother of founder Hussein Badr-al-Din and current leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi
  • Abdul-Karim Badr-al-Din Al-Houthi

    Senior leader, brother of founder Hussein Badr-al-Din and current leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi
  • Mohamed Abdul Salam

    Spokesman
  • Faris Manna

    Houthi-appointed governor of Saada between 2011 and December 2014; alleged former arms dealer whose assets were frozen by the U.N. Security Council and the U.S. Treasury Department
  • Mohammed al-Bukhaiti

    Spokesman

History

 

Violent Activities

Violent activity by the Houthis has consisted mainly of armed rebellion against the Yemeni government, leading to clashes with security forces. Thousands have been killed and displaced as a result of the fighting. The Houthis also briefly fought Saudi forces on the northern border in late 2009, and have battled al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for several years. In October 2016, the rebels took direct action against the United States by conducting a series of failed missile attacks against the U.S. Navy presence in the region.Ryan Browne and Angela Dewan, “US strikes Yemen after missiles launched on warship,” CNN, October 13, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/12/politics/pentagon-us-strikes-hit-radar-sites-in-yemen/. The Houthis had previously kidnapped several American citizens, including a teacher, journalist, humanitarian aid worker.“American English teacher detained in Yemen, officials say,” Fox News, September 22, 2016, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2016/09/22/american-english-teacher-detained-in-yemen-officials-say.html; Jay Solomon, U.S. Met Secretly With Yemen Rebels,” Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-citizen-held-hostage-in-yemen-released-by-houthi-rebels-1433178829; Houthi Rebels Free 5 Hostages Including 2 Americans, in Yemen,” Voice of America, September 20, 2015, http://www.voanews.com/a/houthi-rebels-free-five-hostages-including-two-americans-in-yemen/2971468.html. U.S. ships are not the only vessels the rebels have targeted. Prior to the attacks on the U.S. Navy, a UAE civilian ship was damaged by Houthi missiles that same month.“Yemen conflict: UAE says Houthis attacked civilian ship,” BBC News, October 5, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37561749.

Designations

Designations by the U.S. Government:

April 14, 2015: The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Houthi leader “Abdul Malik al-Houthi” as a Specially Designated National (SDN).“Treasury Sanctions Instigators of the Violent Takeover of Yemen,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, April 14, 2015, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl10021.aspx. The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated former commander of Yemen’s Republican Guard “Ahmed Ali Saleh” as a Specially Designated National (SDN).“Treasury Sanctions Instigators of the Violent Takeover of Yemen,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, April 14, 2015, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl10021.aspx.

Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:

Saudi Arabia designated the Houthis as a terrorist group in March 2014.Ali Ibrahim Al-Moshki, “Saudi Arabia Blacklists Yemeni Groups,” Yemen Times, March 13, 2014, http://www.yementimes.com/en/1763/news/3590/Saudi-Arabia-blacklists-Yemeni-groups.htm. The United Arab Emirates designated “The Houthi Movement in Yemen” as a terrorist organization in November 2014.“List of Groups Designated Terrorist Organisations by the UAE,” National (Abu Dhabi), November 16, 2014, http://www.thenational.ae/uae/government/list-of-groups-designated-terrorist-organisations-by-the-uae.
November 7, 2014: The U.N. Security Council designated “Abd al-Khaliq al-Huthi.”Security Council, “Security Council 2140 Sanctions Committee Designates Three Individuals as Subject to Assets Freeze, Travel Ban,” United Nations, November 7, 2014, http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11636.doc.htm. November 7, 2014: The U.N. Security Council designated “Abdullah Yahya al Hakim.”Security Council, “Security Council 2140 Sanctions Committee Designates Three Individuals as Subject to Assets Freeze, Travel Ban,” United Nations, November 7, 2014, http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11636.doc.htm.
April 14, 2015: The U.N. Security Council designated “Abdulmalik al-Houthi.”Security Council, “Security Council Demands End to Yemen Violence, Adopting Resolution 2216 (2015), with Russian Federation Abstaining,” United Nations, April 14, 2015, http://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc11859.doc.htm.

Associations

Ties to Extremist Entities:

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

Houthi militants have engaged in violent clashes with al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). While the Houthis are opposed to Salafist encroachment in their stronghold, analysts have noticed that the two groups have at times appeared to enter in an alliance against the Yemeni government.Steven Erlanger, “Yemen’s Chaos Aids the Evolution of a Qaeda Cell,” New York Times, January 2, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/world/middleeast/03yemen.html.

Badr Organization

No known cooperative links exist between the Houthis and Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group the Badr Organization. Badr members have, however, rallied in Iraq in support of the Houthi rebels.“Iraq’s Badr Organization Offers to Join Yemen’s Ansarullah in War against S. Arabia,” Fars News Agency, April 1, 2015, http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13940112000339.

Hamas

Higher-ups in the Houthi movement have expressed support for Hamas. Before he was killed in 2004, Houthis founder Hussein al-Houthi made it a point to praise Hamas for its wars against Israel.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 304, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf.In October 2014, a member of the Houthis political party stated that the Houthis and Hamas share “a common stand vis-a-vis Israel” and the United States. “Q&A: What do the Houthis want?,” Al Jazeera, October 2, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/10/qa-what-do-houthis-want-2014101104640578131.html.

Hezbollah

Saudi officials allege that Hezbollah has provided training to the Houthi rebels.“Iran and Hezbollah trained Houthis to ‘harm Yemenis,’” Al Arabiya, April 7, 2015, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/04/07/Iran-and-Hezbollah-trained-Houthis-to-harm-Yemenis-.html. According to the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, the “first thing the Houthis did when they entered and occupied Sanaa was to free Iranian Revolutionary Guards operatives and Hezbollah operatives from the jails.”Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball, “Elite Iranian guards training Yemen’s Houthis: U.S. officials,” Reuters, March 27, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/us-yemen-security-houthis-iran-idUSKBN0MN2MI20150327. Moreover, Houthi rhetoric as early as 2004 indicates the group looks up to Hezbollah due to its anti-American, anti-Israel stance.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 121, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. According to a number of analysts, the Houthis may also have modeled their organization after Hezbollah.Robert F. Worth, “Yemen, Hailed as Model, Struggles for Stability,” New York Times, February 18, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/world/middleeast/yemen-hailed-as-a-model-struggles-for-stability.html;
Reuters, “Saudi Arabia Fears Yemeni Tumult May Boost Its Main Foe Iran,” New York Times, October 2, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2014/10/02/world/middleeast/02reuters-yemen-security-saudi.html.
In October 2014, the Associated Press reported that the Houthis were “poised to become Yemen’s version of the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon—top powerbrokers dominating the government and running a virtual state-within-a-state.”“Shiite Rebels Are Yemen’s New Masters,” Washington Post, October 5, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/shiite-rebels-are-yemens-new-masters/2014/10/05/fce4fbca-4c07-11e4-b72e-d60a9229cc10_story.html.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)

The Houthis have received training and military equipment from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). According to the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, the “first thing the Houthis did when they entered and occupied Sanaa was to free Iranian Revolutionary Guards operatives and Hezbollah operatives from the jails.”<Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball, “Elite Iranian guards training Yemen's Houthis: U.S. officials,” Reuters, March 27, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/us-yemen-security-houthis-iran-idUSKBN0MN2MI20150327.

The Iranian ship Jihan I was seized allegedly en route to Yemen in 2013 with arms meant for the Houthis. The cache, as Reuters reported in December 2014, included, “Katyusha rockets M-122, heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles, RPG-7s, Iranian-made night vision goggles and ‘artillery systems that track land and navy targets 40km away’”as well as “silencers, 2.66 tonnes of RDX explosives, C-4 explosives, ammunition, bullets and electrical transistors.”Yara Bayoumy and Mohammed Ghobari, “Iranian support seen crucial for Yemen’s Houthis,” Reuters, December 15, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/15/us-yemen-houthis-iran-insight-idUSKBN0JT17A20141215.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)

Higher-ups in the Houthi movement have expressed support for Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthis political party, has stated that the Houthis and PIJ share “a common stand vis-a-vis Israel” and the United States.“Q&A: What do the Houthis want?,” Al Jazeera, October 2, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/10/qa-what-do-houthis-want-2014101104640578131.html.

Rhetoric

View All

Houthis slogan

“God is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse upon the Jews! Victory to Islam!”Nabih Bulos and Patrick J. McDonnell, “‘Death to America! Death to Israel!’ Say Houthis in Yemen,” Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-death-to-america-death-to-israel-say-houthis-in-yemen-20150220-story.html.

Houthis Rally Slogan, February 20, 2015

“Against extortion and the American conspiracies and their agents... our revolution continues.”Nabih Bulos and Patrick J. McDonnell, “‘Death to America! Death to Israel!’ Say Houthis in Yemen,” Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-death-to-america-death-to-israel-say-houthis-in-yemen-20150220-story.html.

Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, member of Houthis political party, Fall 2014

“What we have in common with Iran or Hezbollah or Hamas and Islamic Jihad, is that we have a common stand vis-a-vis Israel and US and we will cooperate with any political actor in the region who stands in the face of the US regional designs.”“Q&A: What do the Houthis want?,” Al Jazeera, October 2, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/10/qa-what-do-houthis-want-2014101104640578131.html.

Mohammed Abdul Salam, Houthis Spokesman, September 2014

“The authorities want the people to realize that peaceful options aren’t acceptable ... and are no use in correcting the situation.”Reuters, “Gun Battle in Yemeni Capital After Soldiers Kill Four Shi’ites,” New York Times, September 9, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2014/09/09/world/middleeast/09reuters-yemen-unrest.html?_r=0.

Letter from Houthi rebels, January 2007

“They [the Jews] have taken part in actions and movements that serve global Zionism first and foremost, and are working diligently at corrupting people and making them abandon their values, their moral and religious values, and spread all kinds of abominations throughout society... Our Islam religion compels us to fight the corrupt and denounce them.”Roee Nahmias, “Yemenite Jews under threat,” Ynetnews, January 22, 2007, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3355506,00.html.

Hussein al-Houthi, Founder, Date Not Determined

“[Hezbollah is the] head of mujahidin in this world, they are the ones who present martyrs, the ones who truly preserve the water of the face of the umma.”Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 121, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf.

Hussein al-Houthi, Founder, Date Not Determined

“[The goal of the Houthis’ slogan is to] ingrain in the minds of Muslims that America is the criminal terrorist, that America is evil, that Jews and Christians are evil…”Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 120, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf.

Hussein al-Houthi, Founder, Date Not Determined

“Jews know that the Sunnis will not pose any danger to them . . . are the leaders of the Islamic world today not Sunni? Are they not the ones who agreed, who hurried to agree, that America is to lead the world against what is referred to as terrorism?”Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 120, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf.

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