Shiite insurgents stormed Yemen’s presidential palace and besieged the leader’s residence Tuesday in a show of force that threatened to topple a government that has been a key American ally in the fight against al-Qaeda.
The attack by the Houthi rebel faction — believed to be backed by Iran — marked a major setback for President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. While Hadi apparently survived and was nominally in charge, the rebels’ leader warned that the offensive “has no ceiling” if the president does not implement plans that include granting more power to the insurgents.
A government collapse could send the country into full-scale civil war, threatening a Syria-like disintegration that many fear could be exploited by radical groups such as al-Qaeda. Yemen is home to the terrorist group’s most powerful branch, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Hadi’s weakened position is likely to spell trouble for Washington, which has relied heavily on the 69-year-old former general for cooperation in carrying out drone strikes that have targeted AQAP. The Houthis have been vocal critics of the U.S. government. But it was not immediately clear whether the rebels would force the Yemeni president to suspend the strikes, since the Houthis also consider al-Qaeda an enemy.