Houthi rebels claim attack on Aramco facilities: Insurgents have been seeking regional autonomy for Zaidis in Saudi Arabia since 1990s

On 14 September, two Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia, Abqaiq and Khurais, were targeted by drone attacks. The attacks bring the spotlight on the Houthi rebels

FP Staff September 17, 2019 19:30:46 IST
Houthi rebels claim attack on Aramco facilities: Insurgents have been seeking regional autonomy for Zaidis in Saudi Arabia since 1990s
  • On 14 September a pre-dawn attack happened on Abqaiq and Khurais, two key Aramco facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia

  • Later, the Houthi group said that they were behind the attacks and warned of continuing drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia

  • Riyadh accuses Iran of arming the Houthis, a charge denied by the group and Tehran

On 14 September, two key Aramco facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia, Abqaiq and Khurais, were targeted by drone attacks. The explosions forced state-owned Aramco to temporarily suspend production at the two facilities, interrupting about half of the company's total output, the country's Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said

The attack brings the spotlight on the Houthi rebels, who have claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Houthi rebels claim attack on Aramco facilities Insurgents have been seeking regional autonomy for Zaidis in Saudi Arabia since 1990s

Representational image. Reuters

Who are the Houthis?

Most Houthis are from the minority Zaidi community, which is a part of the Shiite branch of Islam. The Houthi movement, also known as Ansar Allah (Supporters of God) is an anti-government military and political movement backed by Iran and based in Yemen. The members of this movement advocate regional autonomy for Zaidis in northern Yemen.

In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia exported its Salafist Sunni ideology to Yemen from across the border. This antagonised Zaidi clerics and they began to militarise their followers against Riyadh and its allies, as noted in an article in The Guardian. The movement was officially founded in the 1990s by Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who was later killed by Yemeni soldiers in 2004. Subsequently, his brother Abdul Malik became the group's leader.

Since 2004, the rebels gradually gained prominence by advocating the interests of the community, and through support from fellow Shia Yemenis who were by then fed up with the authoritarian president and Saudi-ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Arab Spring

The Houthi movement gained prominence during the Arab spring. By March 2011, tensions intensified and the movement turned bloody, with clashes between the military and protesters.

Finally, in November 2011, power was transferred to the vice-president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Hadi attempted to bring about reforms in the budget and the constitution, but these proposals was rejected by Houthi rebels. The rebels, after waging many insurgencies against the Yemeni government, overthrew the government and captured Sanaa, the capital, in 2015. In 2016, they announced the formation of their own government.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a military seeking to oust the Houthi government from the country. The conflict continues to the present day and is widely reported to have had a severe impact on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

Houthi connection with Iran

The Yemen government has continuously accused Iran of providing political, financial, and logistical support to the Houthi rebels, and of fueling the movement. Despite a report by the United Nations (UN) in 2009 confirmed such claims, both Iran and the Houthis constantly deny any such engagement.

Peace talks so far

The first attempt at peace talks since 2016 happened in Geneva in September 2018. Subsequently, it was cancelled after the Houthi delegation failed to arrive, citing security concerns. However, many confidence-building measures are being implemented. The Houthi leadership said it will stop attacks on the Saudi-led coalition, and in turn, were offered grants, including the transfer of wounded Houthi soldiers to Oman and a security guarantee for the travelling of Houthi politicians.

The UN also brokered another agreement to demilitarise the city of Hodeidah, and the Houthis had agreed to vacate parts of the city. However, the Yemeni government termed the withdrawal as a sham, and claimed that the Houthis had merely rebadged their fighters as coastguards.

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