Yemen crisis: Who are the Houthi rebels?

A once obscure Shia Muslim rebel movement has seized effective control in Yemen, a strategic shift that has dire implications for the Middle East and Western foreign policy

While the West was transfixed by jihadi beheadings of hostages in Syria last autumn, another history-shaking episode in the breakdown of the Arab world was playing out 1,500 miles away.

Western leaders hardly seemed to notice. But a once obscure Shia Muslim rebel movement known as the Houthis swept from the north into Yemen’s picture-postcard capital Sana’a, barging aside the

US- and UK-backed army, and seized effective control.

Any thought that this was a random event in a country whose politics and feuds have always had the capacity to baffle its own people, let alone outsiders, was set aside with a single statement.

An Iranian politician close to that country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could not contain himself. Ali Reza Zakani, an MP, boasted that Sana’a was now the fourth Arab capital in

Iranian hands – after Beirut (through Hizbollah), Damascus (through President Assad) and Baghdad through Iraq’s democratically elected Shia-led government.