Italy, Germany close Yemen embassies as Al-Qaeda seizes army base

Followers of Yemen's al-Houthi Shi'ite group in the northwestern province of Saada (Reuters / Mohamed al-Sayaghi)
With major western embassies in Yemen evacuated, Houthi rebels and Al-Qaeda militants were left to deal with each other face to face. As Washington tries to enroll Shia rebels to combat terrorism, Islamic extremists are busy seizing military hardware.

The embassies of western heavyweight states Germany and Italy have announced evacuation of embassies’ personnel from Yemen. They followed the example of other NATO member states, such as Britain, France and the Netherlands, which have closed their embassies in Yemen temporarily over security fears. US embassy staff were ordered to destroy all top-secret documents and sensitive equipment and pulled out of Yemen altogether Wednesday.

In the meantime, an assault by Al-Qaeda militants on the camp of the 19th Infantry Brigade in Yemen’s Baihan on Thursday ended in the surrender of the garrison and the capture of a large quantity of armored vehicles and heavy weaponry. Seven people have been confirmed dead.

Islamic extremists captured a total of “30 tanks, 90 military vehicles, 25 armored vehicles and 28 artillery pieces,” a Yemeni military official told AFP.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has confirmed the seizure of the camp, accusing troops there of links with the Houthi rebels. Negotiations between Islamic extremists and tribal leaders resulted in Al-Qaeda releasing six Yemeni servicemen.

Only a day before these developments, the Houthi rebels captured the vehicles used for the evacuation of the closed American embassy.

Los rebeldes huthis disuelven el Parlamento y asumen la batuta de la transición en #Yemenpic.twitter.com/Dcxr2ewuBs

— Radio María España ن (@RadioMariaSpain) February 7, 2015

Officials at Sanaa’s airport confirmed that the looted property included more than 25 vehicles used by the US Marines who maintained security at the embassy, as well as three vehicles used by US Ambassador Matthew Tueller and his staff.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki slammed the seizure as “completely unacceptable” and urged the Houthi rebels to “respect international conventions” regarding foreign embassies.

The militia's foreign relations chief, Hussein al-Ezzi, confirmed the seizure of an unspecified number of vehicles, but insisted they were taken for “safekeeping” and are going to be handed over “to a trustworthy third party, like the United Nations office.”

The US Marine Corps, which organized the evacuation from Yemen, said that Marines destroyed heavy weapons and personal firearms in their possession before leaving the embassy headquarters. They also destroyed computers, documents, phones and other sensitive materials within the embassy’s perimeter.

The closure of the US embassy in Yemen has affected Washington's ability to conduct counterterrorist operations in the area against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), believed to be one of the world’s most dangerous jihadist networks.

READ MORE: US lacks intelligence to continue waging indiscriminate drone warfare in Yemen

Today the Huthis took over the state in Yemen Here is my piece on the group, where it came from and where it is going http://t.co/xnhyDL22Bp

— GregorydJohnsen (@gregorydjohnsen) February 6, 2015

Yemen is collapsing – UN chief

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the 15-member Security Council to prevent Yemen from falling into chaos of civil war.

“Let me be clear: Yemen is collapsing before our eyes. We cannot stand by and watch,” Ban told the UNSC. "We must do everything possible to help Yemen step back from the brink and get the political process back on track.”

"Yemen is at a crossroads – either the country would descend into civil war and disintegration or the country would find a way to put the transition back on track," said the UN’s special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, in a briefing for the Security Council on Thursday via video link from the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.

“The current instability is creating conditions which are conducive to a reemergence of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” Benomar said, as cited by Reuters. The diplomat also warned that Yemen’s currency could collapse if a political settlement was not secured within days.

The Houthi rebels have said the closures of the embassies is unjustified and is aimed at putting “pressure” on the Yemeni people.