Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president and longtime strongman, was killed Monday, according to multiple Yemeni officials, as his loyalists and Shiite rebels battled for control of the capital.
A video circulating online purported to show Saleh’s body, his eyes open but glassy, motionless with a gaping head wound, as he was being carried in a blanket by rebel fighters chanting “God is great” who then dump him into a pickup truck. Blood stained his shirt under a dark suit.
Circumstances of his death remained unclear but some officials said rebels killed him as he tried to leave the capital.
Saleh’s death was announced by the rebels, known as Houthis, who have been fighting Saleh’s forces for the past week. Two of Saleh’s associates have confirmed and a third official from the government of Yemen’s internationally recongnized president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has also confirmed.
His death and the fighting between his supporters and the Houthis puts the civil war on an unpredictable path. Saleh allied with the Houthis in the years after he was ousted from power in 2011, and the support of his loyalist military units was key to helping the Houthis overrun the capital, Sanaa, in 2014, driving out Hadi’s government. But in recent months, the alliance frayed amid Houthi suspicions Saleh was leaning toward the Saudi-led coalition backing Hadi.
Hadi’s forces, trying to take advantage of the collapse of the alliance, announced they would march on Sanaa. But even without Saleh’s loyalists, the rebels remain a powerful force.
“The leader of treason has been killed,” Houthis’ TV network al-Masriah said.
Several Houthi military officials said Saleh was killed as he headed along with top party leaders from Sanaa to his hometown of Sanhan, nearby. Houthi fighters followed him in 20 armored vehicles, attacked and killed him and almost all those with him, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press. A Houthi media official, Abdel-Rahman al-Ahnomi told the Associated Press that Houthi fighters killed Saleh as he tried to flee to Saudi Arabia though the province of Marib, to the east of the capital.
Saleh ruled Yemen for more than 30 years. He was forced to resign after months of protests against him during an Arab Spring uprsing in 2011.
Michael reported from Cairo.