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Killing spree of clerics spreads fear in Yemen's Aden

The killings in Yemen's Aden has sparked panic in the southern port city. [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 April, 2018

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At least 25 clerics, preachers, and religious scholars have been gunned down since 2016 in Aden and the southern provinces, with over 15 killed in the past six months alone.
A spate of deadly drive-by shootings targeting Muslim clerics and preachers in Yemen's Aden has sparked panic in the southern port city, prompting some imams to abandon their mosques while others have fled the country.

A tally by The Associated Press shows that at least 25 clerics, preachers, and religious scholars have been gunned down since 2016 in Aden and the southern provinces, with over 15 killed in the past six months alone.

Many of the slain clerics belonged to the Islah party, the Muslim Brotherhood's branch in Yemen, which is one of President AbedRabbu Mansour Hadi's top allies in the south.

The slayings have stoked anger against the UAE in Aden, which holds deep enmity towards the Islah party.

Recently, graffiti saying, "Down with the UAE occupation" surfaced in the streets. On Tuesday, a joint statement by 12 political parties and movements denounced the "evil hands behind the assassinations" of the clerics.

It said those killed are all supporters of Hadi's government.

At least 25 clerics, preachers, and religious scholars have been gunned down since 2016 in Aden and the southern provinces, with over 15 killed in the past six months alone

Minister of Religious Endowment Ahmed Attiya said the killings are "systematic" and that over 50 clerics have left Yemen so far, fleeing to countries such as Egypt and Jordan.

"If this continues, we will ask the clerics to stay home and stop going to mosques," he said from Riyadh.

Attiya has also appealed for an effort to "rescue the clerics, scholars, and imams" of Aden and his office has warned that the killings are taking place hand-in-hand with forced replacements of clerics affiliated with Islah.

UAE-orchestrated killings?

Hadi's government, which operates mostly out of exile with only a few ministers on the ground in Aden, has denounced the slayings as "desperate attempts by terrorist elements and outlaws" against Yemen's legitimate government.

No group has claimed responsibility for the killings, while security authorities in Aden would only say that they are investigating and that they have rounded some suspects.

A top security official in Aden, speaking on condition of anonymity under regulations, accused the UAE of orchestrating the killings.

A list with 20 names of slain clerics was provided by the ministry of religious endowment in Aden.

"They want to destroy Islah, humiliate it and bring the clerics to their knees," said Mohammed Bahourith, whose father Nidhal Bahourith, a cleric at Aden's Al-Dhahibi Mosque, was kidnapped last week by armed men.

Mohammed said he followed the vehicle with the men who had seized his father and found that he was taken to the headquarters of the so-called anti-terrorism force, one of several units in Aden that answer only to the UAE.

Since 2015, the conflict in Yemen has pitted a Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab states against the country's Shia rebels, known as Houthis, who control much of northern Yemen and its capital, Sanaa.

The coalition is fighting to restore Yemen's internationally recognised President AbedRabbu Mansour Hadi to power.

The UAE joined the war as a key coalition partner, sending forces to southern Yemen and carving out a zone of influence across the region.

Setting up heavily-armed militias in a challenge to forces loyal to Hadi, UAE-trained militiamen have engaged in deadly clashes with the exiled president's forces.

The UAE has also been linked to secret prisons where terror suspects are tortured and held without trial, a charge the Emiratis deny.

The Saudi-led coalition did not respond to AP requests for comment.

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