SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's Shiite rebels said Tuesday that President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled the rebel-controlled capital earlier this month and has begun reconstituting his authority in the south, is "wanted for justice."
The move escalated a crisis that threatens to split the Arab world's poorest country between the Houthi rebels, who control the capital Sanaa and much of the north, and Hadi, who enjoys wide support in the formerly independent south.
The growing chaos also threatens to undercut U.S. efforts to combat Yemen's powerful al-Qaida affiliate, which has been linked to several failed attacks on the United States and claimed responsibility for the assault on a French satirical magazine last month.
In the latest sign of the country's growing lawlessness, a Frenchwoman working for the World Bank was kidnapped Tuesday in front of a ministry building in Sanaa, where several Western countries, including France, have shuttered their embassies. No one claimed responsibility for the abduction.
The rebel-run state news agency SABA quoted the Houthis' Revolutionary Committee as saying Hadi's "reckless and erratic actions harmed the Yemeni people," and called on the international community to consider him a fugitive.
The group warned state employees and even diplomatic missions against dealing with Hadi as president, saying they would be "held accountable."
The Houthis hail from the Shiite Zayidi minority, which makes up about a third of Yemen's population, and swept down from their northern strongholds last year, seizing the capital in September.
Last month the rebels seized the presidential palace and placed Hadi, his prime minister and the Cabinet under house arrest, demanding political concessions. Hadi and his government resigned in protest.
The rebels then finalized their takeover by dissolving parliament and declaring their Revolutionary Committee to be the country's highest political body.
Last week Hadi fled to Aden, where he retracted his resignation and declared himself the country's legitimate leader. He has since been holding meetings with tribal leaders, security officials, members of the dissolved parliament and officials from several parties who have flocked to Aden to express their support. A politician from the Islamist Islah party was detained by the Houthis on his way to Aden, the party said.
On Tuesday Hadi replaced the intelligence and police chiefs in Aden as part of a shake-up to remove supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, now allied with the Houthis, according to security officials. The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to brief the press.
On Tuesday Hadi ordered the Defense Ministry to move the army's headquarters to Aden and to take orders only from him. But with the army in shambles, divided over tribal and political loyalties, it's not clear how much power Hadi has over the troops.
The international community largely supports Hadi. The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday extended sanctions on Saleh and two Houthi leaders for another year. The council had imposed a travel ban and an asset freeze on the three in November.
On Monday the Houthis warned Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and his Cabinet -- all of whom had resigned when Hadi did -- to return to their posts or face arrest. Houthi militiamen prevented one minister from fleeing to Aden on Monday.
Abdel-Azizi al-Gobari, the leader of a small anti-corruption party who met with Bahah on Tuesday, said the prime minister would only take orders from Hadi.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemeni franchise is known, meanwhile held a meeting with tribal leaders in the southern Shabwa province, an al-Qaida member told The Associated Press.
The Houthis have battled al-Qaida's Yemeni branch and vowed to destroy the group, but the rebels also employ hostile rhetoric toward the West. The Houthis are widely believed to receive Iranian backing, though they deny the allegations.
A tribal source in Beihan confirmed the talks, in which he said tribal leaders had warned the jihadi group not to drag them into a war with the Houthis. The tribal source and the al-Qaida member spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.