Houthis claim to break up US-Israel spy network after arresting UN staffers


Yemen's Houthi rebels said they had arrested members of an "American-Israeli spy network" days after detaining at least 11 U.N. staffers along with others from aid organizations.

Maj. Gen. Abdulhakim al-Khayewani, head of the Houthis' intelligence agency, announced the arrests, saying the spy network had first operated out of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa. Then after it was closed in 2015 following the Houthi takeover of the capital Sanaa and northern Yemen, they continued "their subversive agenda under the cover of international and UN organizations," he said.

He did not say how many people were arrested. Houthi authorities issued what they purported to be videotaped confessions by 10 Yemenis, several of whom said they were recruited by the U.S. Embassy. They did not include any of the U.N. employees who were arrested. The Houthis' claims could not be independently verified.

The United Nations on Friday announced the arrests of 11 Yemeni staffers. Six worked for the U.N.'s human rights agency, while one apiece worked for its special envoy's office, its development arm, UNICEF, the World Food Program and UNESCO. Other aid groups also reported employees detained, though the total number was not known.

The detentions come as the Houthis, who have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition since their takeover of the north, have been targeting shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, their administration has faced increased financial pressure, and the group has cracked down at dissent at home, including recently sentencing 44 people to death.

Al-Khayewani depicted the spy network as having worked for decades to infiltrate Yemen's economy, agriculture, health system and other sectors to destroy them.

The war in Yemen has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters, killing tens of thousands more. The Houthis' attacks on shipping have helped deflect attention from their problems at home and the stalemated war. But they've faced increasing casualties and damage from U.S.-led airstrikes targeting the group for months now.

It's unclear what exactly sparked the latest detentions. Former employees of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, which shuttered in 2015, also have been detained and held by the Houthis.

However, it comes as the Houthis have faced issues with having enough currency to support the economy in areas they hold. Yemen's exiled government in the southern city of Aden have demanded all banks move their headquarters there as a means to stop the worst slide ever in the value of the currency and re-exert their control over the economy.

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