The Shia insurgency in Yemen began in June 2004 when dissident cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, head of the Zaidi Shia sect, launched an uprising against the Yemeni government. The Yemeni government alleged that the Houthis were seeking to overthrow it and to implement Shī’itereligious law. The rebels counter that they are “defending their community against discrimination” and government aggression.
In 2005, at least 36 people were killed in clashes across the country between police and protesters over rising fuel prices.
A suicide bomber killed eight Spanish tourists and two Yemenis in the province of Marib in July 2007. A series of bomb attacks occurred on police, official, diplomatic, foreign business, and tourism targets in 2008. Car bombings outside the U.S. embassy in Sana’a killed 18 people, including six of the assailants in September 2008. In 2008, an opposition rally in Sana’a demanding electoral reform was met with police gunfire.
In January 2009, the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni al-Qaeda branches merged to form Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen, and many of its members were Saudi nationals who had been released from Guantanamo Bay. Saleh released 176 al-Qaeda suspects on condition of good behavior, but terrorist activities continued.
The Yemeni army launched a fresh offensive against the Shia insurgents in 2009, assisted by Saudi forces. Tens of thousands of people were displaced by the fighting. A new ceasefire was agreed upon in February 2010. However, by the end of the year, Yemen claimed that 3,000 soldiers had been killed in renewed fighting. The Shia rebels accused Saudi Arabia of providing support to salafi groups to suppress Zaidism in Yemen.
On orders from U.S. President Barack Obama, U.S. warplanes fired cruise missiles at what officials in Washington claimed were Al Qaeda training camps in the provinces of Sana’a and Abyan on 17 December 2009. Instead of hitting Al-Qaeda operatives, it hit a village, killing 55 civilians. Officials in Yemen said that the attacks claimed the lives of more than 60 civilians, 28 of them children. Another airstrike was carried out on 24 December.
The U.S. launched a series of drone attacks in Yemen to curb a perceived growing terror threat due to political chaos in Yemen. Since December 2009, U.S. strikes in Yemen have been carried out by the U.S. military with intelligence support from the CIA. The drone strikes are protested by human-rights groups who say they kill innocent civilians, and that the U.S. military and CIA drone strikes lack sufficient congressional oversight, including the choice of human targets suspected of being threats to America. Controversy over U.S. policy for drone attacks mushroomed after a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both U.S. citizens. Another drone strike in October 2011 killed Anwar’s teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.