Huthis seize airport in key Yemeni town, guns open fire at plane over president's compound

ADEN (AFP/REUTERS) - The Shi'ite Huthi militia and its allies on Sunday seized the airport in the battleground central Yemeni town of Taez from forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, security sources said.

Taez is strategically located on the road between Sanaa, which the Huthis overran in September, and the southern city of Aden, to which Mr Hadi fled last month after escaping house arrest in the capital.

Control of the city would enable the Huthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was driven out in early 2012 after a year of bloody protests, to tighten the noose on Hadi.

Some 300 men, including Huthi fighters dressed in military uniforms and so-called special forces have deployed at the airport as reinforcements continued to arrive from Sanaa by air and land, the source said.

The special forces, previously known as the central security force, is a unit seen as close to Saleh.  “These soldiers are partisans of the former president Saleh,” a military source told AFP. 

Meanwhile, Yemeni anti-aircraft guns opened fire at an unidentified plane flying over Mr Hadi's compound in Aden on Sunday and appeared to force it away, witnesses said.

It was the third incident of its kind in the past four days, in which unidentified aircraft have flown over the compound, where Mr Hadi is based, on one occasion dropping bombs without causing any casualties.

Huthi reinforcements began arriving in Taez on Saturday, a day after multiple suicide bombings that targeted Huthi mosques in Sanaa killed 142 people and wounded 351. The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group.  

Huthi militiamen also patrolled certain neighbourhoods of the city and expanded further south by setting up checkpoints in Raheda, some 80km south of Taez on the road to Aden, security sources said.  

On the other side, troops loyal to Hadi and southern paramilitary forces have deployed in Lahj province, north of Aden, in anticipation of a possible advance by Huthis, a military source said.

Hadi has been trying to cement his power base in Aden which he declared temporary capital after he retracted a resignation tendered under Huthi pressure.

On Thursday, his forces overran the base of special forces in Aden after its commander refused Hadi’s decision to remove him.