Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s deposed strongman who ruled the country for more than three decades, was killed Monday as fighting raged between his followers and their former rebel allies, according to officials on both sides of the conflict.
There were conflicting accounts about the circumstances of Saleh’s death, but video circulating on social media purported to show gunmen loading Saleh’s body, wrapped in a floral blanket, onto the back of a pickup truck and shouting, “God is great!”
In the video, Saleh appeared to have suffered a head wound and his shirt was stained with blood. The authenticity of the short clip could not be independently verified.
The radio station of Yemen’s rebel-run Interior Ministry announced Saleh’s death Monday, but provided no details.
Abdel-Rahman Ahnomi, a spokesman for the rebels known as Houthis, told The Associated Press that the former president was killed near the eastern province of Marib, which borders Saudi Arabia. “He was trying to flee to Saudi,” he said.
Saleh’s political party, the General People’s Congress, confirmed his death on its Facebook page, describing him as a “heroic leader.” But a party official, Essam Shuraim, told the broadcaster Al-Jazeera that Saleh was killed by a Houthi sniper, and accused the rebels of mutilating his body.
Saleh was ousted from office during the “Arab Spring” protests that swept the Middle East in 2011, but remained a powerful force in the country. Rogue elements of the military still loyal to the former president joined forces with the Houthis to take over the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014.
Six months later, Saudi Arabia formed a military alliance to restore to power Saleh’s internationally recognized successor, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who set up a parallel government in the southern port city of Aden.
Last week, Saleh switched sides, making overtures to Saudi Arabia as his followers clashed with their erstwhile allies in Sanaa. His death will further complicate efforts to find a political solution to a devastating civil war that has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced over 3 million and pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine.
(Los Angeles Times special correspondent Ahmed reported from Sana and Times staff writer Zavis from Beirut. Special correspondent Nabih Bulos contributed reporting from Beirut.)
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