ADEN, Yemen (AP) — The leader of Yemen's powerful Shiite Houthi rebels, who control the capital and are currently battling al-Qaida militants, on Tuesday brushed off the threat of U.N. Security Council sanctions. "We are not afraid," said Abdel-Malek al-Houthi.
The United Nations last month expressed deep concern at developments in Yemen, urging the new government to expedite reforms — especially in the army and security forces — and threatening to impose sanctions on "spoilers" endangering the country's peace, security and stability.
U.N. diplomats said the United States has asked the council to freeze the assets and impose a global travel ban on three "spoilers" — Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has allied with the Houthis, and two Houthi leaders, Abd al-Khaliq al-Huthi and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim.
Approval by all 15 council members is required to impose sanctions, and the council has set a deadline of Friday evening for objections, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private.
If there are no objections, the Security Council committee examining possible sanctions on Yemenis, which met Tuesday afternoon and includes all 15 members, will order sanctions on the ex-president and the two Houthis.
Abdel-Malek al-Houthi also accused the country's embattled leadership of failing to take the lead in combatting al-Qaida in a speech delivered after at least 30 people were killed in clashes between his forces and al-Qaida militants in the central town of Radda. Houthis and allied tribes fought against al-Qaida on one front, while other rival tribes have sided against against the Shiite rebels.
Al-Houthi delivered the speech in honor of Ashoura, a major Shiite holiday commemorating the seventh-century death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and an iconic Shiite martyr.
He warned that his forces are raising their "combat readiness" and accused embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi of failing to combat al-Qaida's powerful Yemeni affiliate and other Sunni Islamic extremists. Addressing Hadi, the Shiite leader said that authorities lack "political will" to go after al-Qaida.
Al-Houthi's speech signaled an escalation in rhetoric against the country's leadership and fed fears among many Yemenis that the rebels are looking to expand their already considerable territorial gains.
Two security and military officials said that authorities have been recruiting armed civilians, many of them veterans of the "popular committees" which previously participated in fierce clashes with al-Qaida in southern cities, to deter the Houthis from sweeping through the strategic city of Aden. The officials say that over the past two days, dozens of young men with experience in battling al-Qaida, were brought in to Aden.
Al-Houthi accused Hadi of "obstructing" the political process, including the formation of the government, and paving the way for "chaos and turmoil." He also challenged the Yemeni people to take action, saying, "If you submit to the unjust leader and the dictator government, you will be a partner in the crime."
A presidential official said that al-Houthi's speech came after Hadi refused to give the Shiite group an official government mandate to battle al-Qaida.
"They want to be an alternative to the state," he said. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
Thousands gathered in city squares to watch al-Houthi speaking from his stronghold in the northern city of Saada on al-Masseria TV network while big screens were set up in many public squares. On several occasions, al-Houthi chanted a trademark Houthi slogan known as the scream: "Death to America, Death to Israel, Damn Jews and Victory for Islam." The chant resembles an iconic Iranian revolutionary slogan, and the group is suspected of having strong ties to Iran.
The government formation is part of a U.N. deal to reach a peaceful settlement to Yemen's political crisis. The deal stated that the president would appoint a new prime minister after consulting with two advisers, one representing the Houthis and a second representing Yemen's disgruntled southern region. After naming a prime minister, the president, together with different political factions, would form a new cabinet which would present its program to parliament within a month.
However, after the appointment of Prime Minister Khaled Bahah more than two weeks ago, disputes among the political factions have delayed the formation of the new government. On Friday, the Houthis gave Hadi a 10-day ultimatum, hinting of a takeover if they didn't succeed in forming a government. On Saturday, the political factions agreed on a cabinet of apolitical technocrats.
The Shiite rebels have been battling al-Qaida militants in the town of Radda, where the two sides traded heavy artillery fire that lasted until early Tuesday morning, killing several civilians and damaging houses and cars, according to security officials, who said the indiscriminate shelling has forced dozens of families to flee the town. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity according to military regulations.
Some 250 people were killed late last month in fighting between the Houthis, who control large parts of Radda, and the Qifa tribe. The Houthis swept down from their northern strongholds and overran Sanaa in September.
Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.