US calls on Yemen’s Houthis to release its local embassy staff

US calls on Yemeni rebels to ‘end injustice’ and free current and former employees of the US embassy in Sanaa.

Pro-Houthi rally in Sanaa, Yemen.
Houthi supporters hold posters and a photo of the rebel group's leader during a rally to mark the annual al-Quds Day in Sanaa on April 29, 2022 [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

The United States has renewed its call for Yemen’s Houthis to release detained US embassy staff after the death of a retired employee of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) who was in the rebels’ custody.

The US embassy in Sanaa paid tribute to the late staffer, Abdulhameed Al-Ajami, on Thursday, calling him a “proud Yemeni dedicated to educating Yemeni children”.

“We extend our condolences to his loved ones and call on the Houthis to end this injustice and release every single current and former US Embassy employee now,” the embassy said in a statement shared on Twitter.

The Associated Press news agency cited an unidentified international aid worker as saying that Al-Ajami, who was never charged with a crime, suffered from moderate kidney failure – a condition that worsened during his time in detention without access to medical aid.

The US Department of State had said on Wednesday that Al-Ajami “had no contact with his family during the last six months of his life”.

“The United States has been unceasing in its diplomatic efforts to secure the release of our Yemeni staff in Sanaa,” spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. “We demand the Houthis release detained current and former US employees.”

Washington had shut down its embassy in Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2015 as the country’s civil war intensified. The Houthis seized the compound that housed the diplomatic post last October. The rebels also detained dozens of former local employees.

And while the Houthis later released many of the staffers, US officials previously said about a dozen remained in the rebels’ custody.

The Houthis seized control of Sanaa in 2014. The following year, a Saudi-led and US-backed coalition intervened in Yemen to push back the rebels and restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Hadi transferred his powers to a new presidential council last month.

Al-Ajami’s death comes amid United Nations efforts to renew a fragile truce that had brought a halt to the fighting since early April. The temporary ceasefire is set to expire at the beginning of June.

The Saudi-led coalition accuses the Yemeni rebels of being proxies of Iran – a charge that both the Houthis and Tehran reject.

For their part, the Houthis view Washington as a partner in the Saudi-led coalition, and their spokespersons and media outlets often refer to the war as a “US-Saudi aggression”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies