Who are the Houthis? The hidden structures and key leaders who actually run the organization
Nothing has benefited the Houthis in the course of their long war in Yemen more than the lack of accurate information about the group. There is little known about its structure, hierarchy and decision-making mechanisms, making it difficult to understand and anticipate the group’s motives, methods of fighting and maneuvers.
Even those who allied with the Houthis, such as former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his Sana’a-based General People’s Congress (GPC) political party which fought alongside the group for four years, do not seem to understand anything of value about the true structure of the Houthi organization. Despite their position of power and close proximity to the group, many of them did not see past the Houthis’ public facade to understand the internal institutions and leaders with the most influence.
Even the Most Wanted list announced by the Saudi-led coalition in 2017, which names 40 top Houthi leaders, not only doesn’t include many of the group’s main decision makers but lists several marginal ones. This has protected the Houthis’ core leadership and given them a safe space to continue managing the war from the shadows.
In this investigation, Almasdar Online reveals for the first time the opaque, internal organizational structures of the Houthi group. Based on dozens of interviews and review of hundreds of documents and investigations, in addition to years of tracking and monitoring Houthi developments, the investigation provides an approximate model of the structure of the most dangerous armed group in the Middle East.
A jihadist organization
The Houthi group is a clandestine, jihadist military organization. It is not a political party that uses political action as a means to obtain power, except to the extent that it entertains the political process as a cover to expand its battlefield gains.
Well before the unveiling of the group under the Houthi banner in 2004 in the mountains of Sa’ada, its founder, Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi, had started preparing his followers for what he called “jihad and confronting the tyrant (Al-Taghout).” He accumulated weapons caches, dug fortifications in the mountains and organized his students into specialized groups. He established relationships and communications with dignitaries, tribal sheikhs and other influential figures, urging them to buy weapons and prepare for battle to support the “Qur’anic project” which he later set into motion.
Since the first of six so-called Sa’ada wars with the Sana’a-based regime of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh erupted in June 2004, the group's military and other structures have evolved. The militia emerged from each of these wars with more experience, skill and organizational strength.
In December 2005, as the third Sa’ada war was getting underway, Hussein’s younger brother Abdulmalik Badr al-Din al-Houthi ascended to the top leadership of the group. Hussein had been killed by Saleh forces 15 months earlier. Their father, Badr al-Din al-Houthi, managed to block other contenders for the leadership role, in particular Abdullah al-Razami and Youssef al-Madani, both of whom led the second Sa’ada war, while Abdulmalik remained in hiding with his father in the mountains and caves of the fortified Matra area in Sa’ada.
Al-Madani, who is married to the late Hussein's daughter and known as one of the founder’s most intelligent students, had sought Badr al-Din’s blessing for the leadership role, pointing to his contributions with small groups of fighters in the second Sa’ada war. Badr Al-Din managed to bypass Al-Madani, stating that as Hussein’s father he would take command instead and Abdulmalik would be his representative in the field. Badr Al-Din enjoyed great popularity and prestige among Hussein’s followers in the Believing Youth (Al-Shabab Al-Mo’min), which was a predecessor of the Houthi group, and among the Hashemite families that constituted the backbone of the militia at the time. The Zaidi Shia Hashemite class, to which the Houthis belong, claim descendancy from the Prophet Mohammend. They were regarded as Yemen’s master race during the dynastic rule of Imams over some parts of northern Yemen for about 1,000 years until the republican revolution of 1962.
In time, Abdulmalik al-Houthi managed to consolidate control. By the time the third Sa’ada war ended in February 2006, he had become more confident in his ability to run the affairs of the group. His confidence was boosted in part by the arrival of Iranian and Lebanese elements to Sa’ada after Tehran decided to increase its level of support, investing generously in Houthi operations on the southern flank of its key regional rival Saudi Arabia.
Abdulmalik received Iranian support with open arms, which he used to suppress any aspirations of competitors. He recognized the Iranian offers of weapons, technology and training as an exceptional opportunity to expand the group’s influence and capabilities.
The Houthi leader remained hidden from the public and rarely seen between 2006 and 2008 in particular, prompting rumors about his death or injury and raising questions whether he was the actual leader of the group or just a cover. The speculation helped create a mythic aura around him that elevated his status.
All the while Abdulmalik began to build his own powerful inner circle to the exclusion of Hussein’s close allies, who had abundant experience but could not be trusted.
Through his office, Abdulmalik began addressing field commanders in letters and awarding medals and honorific titles. He referred to them as individuals “stationed on the frontiers of Islam” to boost their morale and sent them plans to implement as part of the young leader’s ambitious agenda.
With the death of his father Badr Al-Din and the end of the sixth Sa’ada war in 2010, Abdulmalik became the sole leader of the group. He is surrounded by a core group of loyalists of his generation who are mostly Hashemites. At present it seems unlikely that any of the Hashemites affiliated with the Houthis are considering competing with him or revolting against his rule.
His personal office evolved into the General Council, known as the “Office of the Sayyid,” which is the body that manages the group’s publicly known facade structures, councils and other entities. But the most influential part of the Houthi organization remains independent and in the shadows thanks in large part to the public image that the group has cultivated over the years.
Evolution of Houthi structures
The group’s organizational structures have gone through several major developmental stages. The first was in 2010, when Abdulmalik felt that his group had reached a point of permanence. In addition to establishing control of almost all of Sa’ada governorate and extending its influence and battlefronts beyond the borders of Sa’ada, the group succeeded in securing the allegiance of the Hashemite class which had lost its stature in the September 1962 revolution that created the Republic of Yemen. Capitalizing on these gains, Abdulmalik expanded the fledgling Executive Council, established the nucleus of the Political Council which included delegates negotiating with the state and tribal and political mediation committees and promoted the rebranding of the group as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God).
The second stage was in February 2011 when the Arab Spring uprisings reached Yemen and the Houthis saw their opportunity to expand and exploit the fragility of the transitional period. They called themselves the Qur’anic procession (Al-Masirah Al-Quraaniah) and began co-opting youth and political elites looking for a role in the group. The Hashemites of Sana’a joined forces with the Hashemites of Sa’ada and media structures, satellite TV channels, and Executive Council departments started to emerge.
The third major developmental stage was in late 2014, after the Houthis stormed Sana’a with the help of alliances the group had forged with the former Saleh regime.
By this time, many of the Houthis’ most prominent leaders had traveled to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Iran and received enough training and knowledge to directly challenge the central government. The group established the Supreme Revolutionary Committee (SRC), separated governorate affairs from the Executive Council and established the Governmental Work Authority.
The fourth stage was in early 2017 when the group made major changes to the so-called Jihadist Council. The theater of military operations was reconfigured and new field commanders replaced military leaders affiliated with Saleh. For example, Abu Ali, Al-Madani, Zara'a, Al-Munnabihi and Al-Mahdi were appointed commanders of military regions (See list below).
The fifth stage was in 2018, when the SRC and Executive Council were merged into the Governmental Work Authority, and the entire security apparatus and intelligence services were reconfigured.
Key Houthi structures
Abdulmalik has been keen to form entities and titles that accommodate the aspirations of the influential people around him, especially Hashemites, while at the same making them compete with each other in order to ensure that they do not try to undermine his authority. However, he prefers to intervene to solve such disputes, which have become more frequent. One of the ways he has defused these tensions has been to transfer leaders to different areas of Houthi-held territory.
Abdulmalik has also isolated all of the entities from each other, leaving his office as the only link between them. In this way, when the public is agitated about a particular entity, the group’s propaganda apparatus can frame the Office of the Sayyid as the savior for intervening and address public concerns.
The complex structure of the group in general, and the consolidation of decision-making power solely in the hands of the Jihadist Council and Abdulmalik’s inner circle in particular, is what explains the strange behavior of the group’s public-facing political figures that everone is famliair with. This is apparent in the contradictions between the council’s political rhetoric and the group’s actions on the ground. While these political representatives masterfully play their roles, they do not have the decision-making authority in practical terms.
Almasdar Online, March 2022
The General Council (Office of the Sayyid) or “the authority of authorities”
The General Council is the highest Houthi authority in non-military affairs. Its power goes beyond being a private office for Abdulmalik himself, as reflected in the comprehensive role that the office plays in overseeing all of the group’s facade entities and the leaders and entities linked to them.
The General Council is headed by Abdulmalik’s right-hand man, Sifr al-Sufi, who was listed as one of the most wanted Houthi members by the Yemeni government in 2009. The Saudi-led coalition also lists Al-Sufi on its list of the 40 most wanted Houthi leaders. Al-Sufi, who is from Sada’a, enjoys wide influence over all Houthi leaders with the exception of those on the Jihadist Council.
The council consists of several technical departments linked to the various structures of the group, whether secret internal entities, official governmental institutions, or the publicly known facade institutions like the SPC.
The General Council also directs other major structures, most notably internal finances, research and Preventive Security, which are directly linked to Abdulmalik and are not subject to the authority of any other councils.
Even before the 2014 coup, the Houthis have been keen to portray this body as omnipotent.
The official in charge of the Office of the Sayyid (General Council) supervises the five councils that constitute the civil interface of the group and what falls under its authority, which are (Executive Council, Political Council, Provincial Affairs Council, Governmental Work Authority, Judicial Authority) and the leaders of these councils are members of the General Council.
The Executive Council represents the social and educational apparatus that is concerned with the mobilization of the masses and the intellectual and cultural framing of the community. It consists of several departments, including the Cultural Department, General Mobilization, Social Department, Educational Department, Scholars and Learners Department, Internal Employees Affairs Department, Qur’anic Culture Department, University Education Department, Public Events Department, Women’s Authority, Tribal Cohesion Council, Media Authority.
After the fourth Sa’ada war, in which the group established full control over some districts in Sa’ada, Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim, known as Abu Ali, was assigned to oversee the administration and management of these areas. The entity under Abu Ali’s leadership was later renamed the Executive Council and its structure resembled that of Lebanese Hezbollah’s.
When the Houthis established control over the entire governorate of Sa’ada in 2011, Youssef al-Faishi appeared on the Executive Council together with Abu Ali. Around this time, as Abu Ali built a network of relationships that paved the way for the group’s expansion outside Sa’ada, Yemenis started hearing about Houthi “supervisors,” a new class of informal authorities that have become central to the group’s ability to dominate areas under its control. During this period, he became known for terrorizing tribal sheikhs and other authorities who opposed the expansion of the group. Abu Ali still plays the latter role even though the group has worked hard to portray him as a storied military commander above the fray. In fact, he only participated in the first three Sa’ada wars, and then again for a short period in 2017 when he was appointed commander of the Fourth Military Region.
Prior to the 2014 coup, the leadership of the Executive Council passed to Abdulkarim al-Houthi (Abdulmalik’s paternal uncle and current Interior Minister), one of the most influential figures within the group. In 2018, a public dispute emerged between Abdulkarim and Mohammad Ali al-Houthi (Abdulmalik’s distant cousin), who led the Supreme Revolutionary Committee (SRC) – overseen by the Executive Council – which took over the management of the group’s public authority after the coup. Despite a public announcement in August 2016 on the partial transfer of authority from the SRC to the Supreme Political Council (SPC), Mohammad Ali used his SRC ties to compete for influence with Abdulkarim. Both Abdulkarim and Mohammad Ali began to compete with the authority of the weak SPC President Mahdi al-Mashat, and Ahmed Hamed, who leads the Governmental Work Authority.
After the Houthis killed their main ally, former President Saleh, in December 2017, Abdulmalik decided to unify the group’s structures and dismantle some centers of power. The changes included bringing Abdulkarim and Mohammed Ali under the authority of Abdulmalik’s strong but hated loyalist, Ahmed Hamed. In early May 2019, Abdulkarim was appointed as Minister of the Interior, and Mohammad Ali became a member of the SPC. At the same time, the SRC was dissolved and its existing members were given the choice to join the Shura Council (upper chamber of parliament), or to stay in their homes without any responsibilities.
After Abdulkarim became the Interior Minister, the Executive Council remained without a known head for nearly a year until Qasim al-Hamran was appointed acting chief. Al-Hamran, who works as Deputy Minister of Local Administration, is one of the most prominent Houthi leaders and close to Abdulmalik. Abdulmalik has tasked Al-Hamran with multiple major tasks. For example, in 2020, when Abdulmalik’s brother, Yahya Badr al-Din al-Houthi, the Minister of Education, retreated to his home in protest of the group stealing humanitarian aid at the end of 2020, Abdulmalik appointed Al-Hamran as deputy minister of education through an unannounced decision by Al-Mashat to replace Yahya. The Houthis’ official news agency has published multiple work positions of Al-Hamran, but there have been no announced decisions by Al-Mashat, which confirms Al-Hamran’s central role within the group.
Dr. Ahmed Mutahar al-Shami has served as director of the office of the president of the Executive Council for more than 10 years. He recently became known as the council's chargé d'affaires, but he deleted this title from his Twitter account.
Sources with knowledge of the Executive Council suggest that Abdulkarim, Al-Hamran and Al-Shami are merely assistants to the real official who oversees the entire cultural and educational department. This official is Mohammad Badr al-Din al-Houthi, the oldest brother of Abdulmalik, who is a co-founder of the Believing Youth Organization and the author of its curricula. Mohammed Badr Al-Din considered himself as the most worthy top leader of the group, but he was in prison when his brother Hussein was killed in 2004. He was not released from prison until after Abdulmalik became the top leader of the group. Mohammed Badr Al-Din is considered a core founder and theorist as well one of the highest religious and intellectual authorities of the group and surpasses his brother Abdulmalik in knowledge of Sharia law and Zaidi doctrine. He has the skills of public speaking, debate and persuasion equal to or greater than Abdulmalik, but he does not participate in any public activities, and there is scant information about his movements recently, according to a former leader in the group. In an interview with Almasdar online in April 2010, after his release from prison, he was asked why he did not take over the leadership of the organization. He replied with a smile: “I was in prison, and my brother Abdulmalik was close with my father and was always with him, and I just got out of prison and the situation is like this, as you can see.” Although he did not declare his objection publicly, it was clear at the time that he was frustrated and you could sense his feelings that he was the most deserving of the leadership of the group.
The Executive Council represents a major part of the organization’s activities, and under this umbrella cultural courses are held that instill the group’s ideology among the community. The cultural courses last for a minimum of one week, while some of them extend for several weeks. Each course is an independent program and level. People are taken to them against their will in cars with blacked out windows and escorted to secret basements where intensive cultural and educational lectures are held that indoctrinate the attendees with the writings of Hussein and Abdulmalik and establishes the doctrine of loyalty to what they call Ahl al-Bayt, who are the Hashemites. They are reminded of their virtues of the Hashemites, their right to rule, and the blessing that God bestowed on the Yemenis, as they claim, with the family of the Prophet.
Among the most prominent and effective leaders in the Executive Council, Khaled al-Madani, who was the head of the Al-Samoud Youth Bloc in Sana’a’s Change Square during the uprisings against the Saleh regime in 2011. His influence expanded after the Houthi invasion of Sana’a in 2014, when he assumed responsibility as the supervisor of the capital. More recently, he has played another central role in the group, holding public and bilateral meetings with SPC President Al-Mashat as a member of the Shura Council, although details of the work are not public. Al-Madani often chairs the committees running major Houthi events such as the celebrations of the Prophet's birthday, the Day of Ghadeer, Al-Shaheed and others. He also supervises major aspects of the work of the Executive Council, and maintains in his capacity as supervisor of the capital in the Governorates Affairs Council.
Key members of Executive Council
-Mohammad Ali Al-Houthi, who is also head of the "Justice System" which influences the Ministries of Interior and Justice and the Public Prosecutor’s office to control the real estate market and targeted individuals.
-Abdullah Yahya Al-Hakim (Abu Ali), a senior level security official whose mission is to exert control over leaders in society and subjugate them using his reputation as a top military figure. He is mainly charged with managing relations with tribal sheikhs and forcing them to comply with orders like recruiting young tribal fighters to the war effort.
-Hassan Al-Sa’di, a prominent figure in financial activities.
-Dhaif Allah Rassam, Chairman of the Tribal Cohesion Council.
-Majed Al-Matari, cultural official and one of the group’s early founders.
-Yahya Abu Awadha
-Taha Al-Mutawakil, supervises a number of the council’s departments. He is also the Health Minister.
-Adnan Qaflah, responsible for relations with Hawza (religious centers) in Iran, Iraq and other countries with large Shia’a populations.
-Nasr Al-Din Amer, media officer.
Governorate Affairs Council
Its power is proportionate to the Executive Council’s, but it handles the affairs of the territory controlled through the group’s notorious system of supervisors. Its members form an elite group of leaders who are chosen by Abdulmalik and entrusted with enforcing his orders in the governorates. Members are selected from the most trusted in Abdulmilk’s inner circle who have been scrutinized and tested their absolute loyalty to the leader. All of the supervisors are Hashemites, and most of them are from Sa’ada governorate or joined fighting early on in the Sa’ada wars. They are distributed among the governorates under Houthi control. They have the power to appoint supervisors.
The hierarchical structure in the Governorates Affairs Council is formed according to a Houthi document as follows:
-Square (unit of territory)
-Unit (internal department)
Supervisors are the supreme Houthi officials at the governorate level. A supervisor issues direct orders to the governorate’s governor, as well as the governor’s deputies and general directors, all of whom work under the supervisor's management. They impose fees and issue decisions on schools, universities and state employees in general.
Because they operate without oversight, supervisors engage in enormous amounts of corruption. Houthi supervisors have become a parody among Yemeni society because of the sudden and illegal wealth they acquire. If anyone shows signs of sudden enrichment, a cynical Yemeni might jokingly say, "Have you become a mushrif (supervisor)?"
Under each governorate supervisor there is a security supervisor, a cultural supervisor and a social supervisor, and the same structure is replicated in each district.
The Houthis have appointed less trusted figures as governors of each governorate in order to signal that the group accepts others and that power is not monopolized by core Houthi members. However, this arrangement also allows the group to spread responsibility for societal grievances. In some governorates, when the group does not find a suitable individual following the above criteria, it is forced to appoint the supervisor as a governor. This is the case in Sana’a governorate, where Abdulbaset al-Hadi is governor. After his appointment as governor, Houthi authorities assigned his deputy, who still holds the position of Sanaa’s security director, the duties of the governorate supervisor. In some governorates, the supervisor is appointed as the deputy governor as a cover, and the security supervisor is appointed “secretary for security affairs” for the same reason.
Supervisors of Houthi-controlled governorates:
-Sa’ada (Abu Abed Al-Manbhi)
-Sana’a city (Khaled Al-Madani)
-Sana'a Governorate (Abdulbaset Al-Hadi)
-Amran (Mohammed Al-Ezzi)
-Hajjah (Nayef Abu Kharfasha)
-Hodeidah (Ahmed Al-Bishri)
-Al-Mahwit (Aziz Al-Hatfy)
-Dhamar (Fadel Al-Sharqi)
-Ibb (Yahya Al-Qasimi)
-Taiz (Abdullah Al-Nawari)
-Al-Dhale'e - Damt and Qa’taba district (Salah Hataba)
-Al-Jawf (Fouad Al-Ezzi)
-Al-Baydha (Hammoud Shatan)
-Raymah (Zayd Al-Azzam)
In addition to the above supervisors, prominent members affiliated with the the Governorate Affairs Council include Youssef Al-Faishi, Abdulghani al-Tawoos (one of the group's most prominent leaders) and Fahd Al-Ezzi.
Almasdar Online, March 2022
It is the main Houthi entity that presents a soft and normal image of the group. While many have thought that the council represents the highest political leadership below Abdulmalik, it is nothing but a department or a committee whose mission is limited to managing relations with local political parties. When there are important issues that need to be addressed, the Office of the Sayyid assigns figures to represent Abdulmalik; they are rarely members of the political council itself.
The political council publicly appeared during the 2011 uprisings when the group felt the need for a public interface that could consume the attention of outsiders while group carried out its expansionary plans behind the scenes. It was initially entrusted to a group of "Mujahideen” (nickname for core Houthi members which also means holy warriors) and then it added several personalities who joined the group, including social figures or former members of other parties.The group was keen to add such outsiders in order to serve the council’s purpose of presenting the Houthis as a popular movement that accepts the other and is not limited to the Hashemite families or the Mujahideen.
Some of the members of the Political Council are not known, and from time to time new figures appear with a title associated with the council. Some of them have defected without causing damage to the Political Council as it is not an important entity within the structure of the group.
Saleh Habra was the first head of the Political Council but his activity had been frozen with the group since the end of the National Dialogue Conference in 2014. He was replaced by Saleh al-Sammad a few days before the Houthi coup on September 21 of the same year and held the position until he was killed in 2018. He was also the head of the Supreme Political Council (SPC) consisting of Sana’a-based GPC members and Houthi representatives since its formation in August 2016. The SPC is currently headed by Mahdi Al-Mashat, but he is not the head of the Political Council. Currently there is only the Secretary-General of the Political Council, Ismail Abu Talib, and he is a technical figure who lacks influence. His stature reflects the actual influence of the Political Council as a marginal entity that only played an effective role during the group’s coup and its aftermath. Now the Houthis only hold meetings of the Political Council in the event of a dispute with the remnants of the GPC party in Sana’a in order to deliver a threatening message to the already weakened partner. The Political Council issues repeated political statements of solidarity or congratulations to the rest of the branches of Iran’s so-called Axis of Resistance in the Arab region, and focuses on attacking Bahrain, showing strong support for the Shiite opposition there.
The Political Council consists of a general secretariat and two departments (political and legal relations) and its most prominent members are currently: Hussein al-Ezzi, who heads the Political Relations Department, which is inactive as Mohammad Abdulsalam, took over its responsibilities through his position as the group’s spokesman and negotiator. In addition, Al-Ezzi holds the position of the deputy foreign minister in the Houthi government, but he is trying to make a presence in the media to compensate for what Abdulsalam and Abdulmalik al-Ajri stole from him.
Ali al-Asimi is the legal affairs chief of the Political Council. Other prominent members include Ali al-Qahoum, who is the former secretary of Mohammad Abdulsalam, Abdulmalik Al-Ajri, Mohammad al-Bokhaiti, Hizam al-Assad, Abdullah Hashem al-Sayani, Abdulwahhab al-Mahbashi and Hamza al-Houthi (Abdulmalik’s distant cousin).
Governmental Work Authority
This entity is concerned with managing Houthi cadres in the state and government. It appoints and directs office holders including ministers, and draws up policies and administrative plans. It was formed after the coup when the group was participating with the rest of the political parties in the Peace and Partnership Agreement, headed by Mahmoud al-Junaid. Ahmed Hamed, the prominent Abdulmalik loyalist who now heads the Governmental Work Authority, was previously part of its cultural affairs arm and led its media committee. Within the Houthi structure, Hamed is the most senior figure in the Houthi government, not Mahdi Al-Mashat. He is considered the organizational official for all members of the group in the state’s institutions. He currently holds the position of director of Al-Mashat’s office, but in practice, the exact opposite is true, and because Al-Mashat is a person who does not possess any leadership skills and prestige, the true leadership role of Hamed is clear to all.
Hamed is assisted by Mahmoud Al-Junaid, who was a member of the Political Council and managed Al-Samad's office for a short time, as well as Hassan Sharaf al-Din and Yasser al-Houry.
Its mission is to resolve internal Houthi disputes. It is headed by Mohsen al-Hamzi, who is one of the oldest leaders of the group. He had been a companion of Hussein Al-Houthi since the establishment of the Al-Haqq Party in the early 1990s. Abdulmalik Al-Houthi assigned him to resolve disputes between some of the group's figures, and he is accepted by the majority of Houthi leaders from the first and second ranks.
The Jihadist Council
This is the core organizational entity and the most secretive structure of the Houthi group. It has the power to establish new councils and merge or dissolve existing ones. All of the group’s other structures, councils and public entities protect the Jihadist Council, facilitate its objectives and provide cover and capabilities for the strategic aim of the council: to gain control of Mecca and Al-Medina, the rest of the Arabian Peninsula and link up with other members of the Iran-led Axis of Resistance in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, as well as the secret branches in the Gulf states that are sponsored by Iran.
The Jihadist Council consists of nine members who are the main leadership of the Quranic Jihadist Procession. These members are the ones who draw up strategic plans for expansion and control and determine the priorities of the group’s other councils and entities. All of them are veterans of the six Sa’ada wars. The head of the General Council the Chairman of the Executive Council are members of the Jihadist Council, along with other military officials. The political aide of Abdulmalik, who is currently Mohammad Abdulsalam, attends some of these meetings.
The organizational structure of the Houthis was formed in response to the developments of events during the continuous wars that it has fought since 2004. It is therefore a complex, unconventional and secretive structure that does not resemble other armed groups. It is a cumulative organic structure that was not the result of long-term planning as much as developing in reaction to the political and military developments on the ground. As such it has undergone revisions and restructuring during the major transitional stages in the history of the group. This Jihadist Council is influenced greatly by the assistance from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) expertise and from the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Jihadist Council structure
-Leader of Quranic Jihadist Procession (Al-Masirah Al-Qura’nyah): Abdulmalik Al-Houthi
-The Jihadi Aide (IRGC-QF officer. His deputy is Lebanese Hezbollah)
-Jihadi Office (Command-and-Control station)
-Operations Officer (Commander-in-Chief)
-Military Regions Officer
-Specific Forces Official (Missiles, drones, military trainers)
-Jihadi Preparation Officer (Organizes fighters)
An internal memo sent by the Jihadi office (Almasdar Online)
The jihadi aide of Abdulmalik Al-Houthi is the central figure and the central representative of the resistance axis (in practice he is the military commander). He is an Iranian general from the IRGC-QF who has wide authority in decision-making and directing the paths of strategic jihadist and military actions. He supervises a team with advanced capabilities that is in charge of technology development, recruitment of experts and trainers, as well as development and organization of the structures involved in military infrastructure and planning.
The jihadi office is the main command-and-control center, and the executive technical body concerned with the affairs of the council. It works as a secretariat that organizes work and follows up on the operations of all sections of the Jihadist Council and its leaders, and it is the link with the General Council. The Special Forces are subject to the management of this office and move according to Abdulmalik’s orders directly through the office.
The operations officer is the executive commander of the Houthis’ army. He manages the main departments of the structure, including the central information unit, military intelligence, logistics, training, manpower and combat disciplines such as armaments, passive defense and engineering. The person who currently holds this position is Mohammed Al-Ghamari, who is also the army’s Chief of Staff.
The military regions officer: He is the top commander of Houthi ground forces, and oversees six to eight prominent field leaders, some of whom have appeared in public during past wars.
The group divides the theater of operations in the current battle into five regions:
-Fourth and Seventh Regions, led by Abdulatif al-Mahdi, includes eight governorates.
-Fifth Region, led by Youssef Al-Madani, includes four governorates.
-Central Region, led by Abdulkhaliq al-Houthi (younger brother of Abdulmalik). It includes the Third Region and covers three governorates (Sana’a, Sana’a city and western Marib). It oversees the remnants of the leadership of the Republican Guard, which was led by former President Saleh's son Ahmed, and the Special Guard, which was led by his nephew Tariq.
-Sixth Region, led by Badr Zara'a, includes two governorates.
-Border Region, led by Abu Murtada al-Munbahi, stationed in Sa’ada. Al-Mubahi’s task is managing forces along the Saudi border. There are also a number of other units stationed nearby, such as the Hamadan Axis, led by Yahya Al-Razami. Unlike other fronts, this one is subject to continuous change in leadership.
There are special sub-fighting axes on smaller fronts, and some of them are run by central leadership:
- Reserve forces consisting of several brigades, each unit of which is linked to a specific but central authority, such as the Sammad Brigades, the Al-Fateh Brigades, the Logistic and Support Brigades and the Quds Brigades.
- The security officer is the person in charge of all security operations except for (Preventive Security) in the various intelligence departments, public security departments, the Ministry of the Interior and all the arms that oversee prison operations in Houthi-controlled areas.
- The special forces official leads strategic and technical capabilities of ballistic missiles, drones and naval mines as well as their trainers. He is closely related to the jihadist aide, Iranian and Lebanese experts, and some Iraqi elements who are linked to the development of the group's missile forces, the installation of smuggled sensitive parts of these weapons and the manufacture of complementary parts in special manufacturing workshops in private farms and subterranean workshops.
- Jihadi preparation official is the human recources organizer who manages the recruitment of fighters and educates them, organizes military and training courses, nominates and promotes personnel to leadership positions in accordance with standards and special forms inspired by Hezbollah. This includes collecting and reporting accurate information about valuable individuals and a willingness to complete any task without hesitation, in addition to other personal qualifications and past experience.
Almasdar Online, 2022
The most prominent Houthi military leaders:
- The jihadi aide: IRGC-QF general.
- Jihadi aide deputy: Abu Zainab (Lebanese Hezbollah).
- Jihadi office: Abu Mohammad, head of the office.
- Special forces official: Malik (a jihadi nickname) is responsible for these forces. His deputy is Ahsan al-Hamzi.
- Security officer: Ahsan Al Humran
- Operations officer: Mohammad Abdulkarim al-Ghamari (known as Hashem). Also heads the General Staff in the Houthi-run defense ministry.
- Abdulkhaliq al-Houthi (known as Abu Younis): Commander of the Central Military Region and the Republican Guard. Under his military command are the capital Sana’a, Sana’a governorate, and the eastern front of Sana’a (Marib front) on the Sirwah and Majzar side.
- Abdulatif Al-Mahdi (known as Abu Nasr): Commander of the Fourth and Seventh Regions, and eight governorates are under his military command, which are Dhamar, Ibb, Taiz, Lahj, Al-Baydha, Al-Dhale, Abyan and Shabwa.
- Youssef Al-Madani (known as Abu Hussein): Commander of the Fifth Military Region, located in Hodeidah, Hajjah, Al-Mahwit, and Raymah. It is believed that the leadership of the region was recently entrusted to Hamza Abu Talib, while Al-Madani moved to a more centralized role closer to Abdulmalik to manage what they the group calls “jihadist work.”
- Jamil Zara'a (Abu Badr): Commander of the Sixth Region. The governorates of Al-Jawf and Amran are under his military authority.
- Abu Issam Hadi Zarib: Commander of the Third Military Region, the western districts of Marib under the command of Abdulkhaliq Al-Houthi.
- Nasser Al-Mohammadi (known as Abu Mortada Al-Manabbahi): Commander of the border front with Saudi Arabia.
- Yahya Abdullah Al-Razami (known as Abu Abdullah): Commander of the Hamedan Axis. He does not have a specific location, although his theater of operations is on the border front, but his forces are like reserve forces that carry out multiple tasks on various fronts. He is linked to his father – Abdullah Al-Razami, the former assistant to the slain former leader of the movement, Hussein Al-Houthi – and is given special treatment.
- Abdullah Yahya Khater (Abu Zaid): One of the founders of the Jihadist Council.
- Abu Harb Al-Ayani: A commander of special forces who undertakes multiple military missions alongside Hamza al-Shahari.
- Muhammad Nasser al-Atifi: Minister of Defense, a former commander of the missile brigades in the Yemeni army and discribed as a smart officer. Al-Atifi pledged allegiance to the Houthis. He is currently engaged in more than his declared formal duties.
The Houthi militia froze the official army structures after the launch of the Saudi-led coalition’s Operation Decisive Storm in March 2015, as the majority of its former commanders refused to work under the authority of Houthi military supervisors. Some officers sided with the Houthis’ then-ally Saleh and worked with the group, but the majority refused. The Houthis relied on its own jihadist organization.
The group retained the structure of the Ministry of Defense as an umbrella and a facade, but in practice it integrated some aspects and painted them with its own mechanisms. It retained some older officers, most of them Hashemites, who perform ceremonial roles in front of the camera and receive monthly payments in return for their public appearances.
The militia calls its fighters the People's Committees, and since its coup in September 2014, it has been recruiting and mobilizing young men and school-aged teenagers and children, who are often taken by force, brainwashed and turned into weapons against other Yemenis.
While the group's structure works in its own way, the soldiers of the former army who accept to fight with the group must undergo sectarian educational and training courses to adhere to the Houthi ideology and military methodology of blind obedience.
Edited by Casey Coombs & Alkhatab Alrawhani