SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Several army tanks and armored vehicles were seized by armed tribesmen rival to the country's Shiite rebels, officials said Friday, as rebels in control of the capital have been intensifying security measures on eve of their large ceremony commemorating Prophet Muhammad's birthday.
Officials say the seizures came after clashes broke out Thursday night in the eastern city of Marib between tribesmen and army troops. They say the tribesmen suspected that the soldiers were heading to join the Shiite rebels who have been gathering outside of Marib for several weeks. Six soldiers and two tribesmen were killed in the clashes, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The Shiite rebels known as the Houthis are backed by ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh. They have overrun the capital and other cities in a power grab that has plunged Yemen into turmoil.
In Sanaa, Houthis plastered the streets with green decorations while preparing to hold a large festival in a captured army base to commemorate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad on Friday night.
The celebrations have drawn the ire of many Yemenis, who say that Houthis are trying to appease disgruntled residents after months of violence in the capital and across the country. The Houthis have recently beefed up their security measures and public deployments in Sanaa for fear of attacks by militants from al-Qaida.
The celebrations in Sanaa come two days after a similar event turned bloody when a suicide bomber struck in the central city of Ibb, leaving at least 24 dead and nearly 50 injured.
The attack fit the profile of al-Qaida, but the group did not issue a claim of responsibility. On Friday, the group posted a message on its official Twitter account warning "Muslims" against joining the Houthis' celebrations, so as not to get in the crossfire of any attacks targeting the Shiite rebels.
Sunni al-Qaida has recently intensified its attacks against the expansionist Shiite Houthis, especially in Yemen's predominantly Sunni central region.