Youssef al-Ayzari

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

The bodies of al-Ayzari, a reporter for the satellite TV news network Suhail TV, and Abdullah Qabil, a reporter for the satellite TV news networks Belqees TV and Yemen Youth TV, were found in the rubble of a building hit by an airstrike. The journalists were found days after they had been abducted.

The building was hit by an airstrike on May 21, which was launched by a Saudi-led coalition of countries against Houthi militias in the city of Dhamar, news reports said.

On May 20, 2015, al-Ayzari and Qabil were kidnapped by militiamen allegedly affiliated with the Houthi movement and its allies, according to the journalists’ employers and news reports. Yemen Youth TV, Suhail TV, and the journalists’ families, who issued a statement to the press, said the two were returning to the city of Dhamar after covering a meeting by tribesmen opposed to the Houthis in the Al-Hada region, northeast of the city. The statements by Yemen Youth TV and the journalists’ families said that the two journalists were in a car with a third man, Hussein al-Aysi, when they were stopped at a checkpoint manned by the Houthis. The families’ statement also says the Houthi militiamen searched the journalists’ car and confiscated their equipment before capturing and imprisoning them.

Qabil’s body was recovered on May 25, and al-Ayzari’s the next day, according to news reports. Dozens of other victims were also suspected to have been killed in the same air strike, the reports say. Al-Aysi was not killed in the air strike, news reports said. It is unclear what Al-Aysi’s role was with Qabil and al-Ayzari.

News reports and a statement from the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate said the building that was hit in the air strike was an earthquake monitoring station. Belqees TV, Yemen Youth TV, and Suhail TV released statements blaming the Houthis for the deaths of the two reporters and alleging that the Houthis used the journalists as human shields to protect a military installation. After the strike, the head of the earthquake monitoring station told the media that there was no military value to the site, according to news reports.

Houthi rebels took control of the capital, Sana’a, and other cities in September 2014, eventually forcing the government to resign, according to news reports. On March 25, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of 10 countries began launching air strikes, targeting territory controlled by the Houthi militia, in an attempt to restore the exiled president who fled Yemen later that month as the Houthis increased their control over the country. Around the time that the air strikes began, outlets critical of the Houthis or affiliated with coalition governments were raided by Houthi forces and their staff temporarily detained, according to CPJ research.

Both al-Ayzari and Suhail TV were attacked by Houthi militiamen in prior months. According to Suhail TV, al-Ayzri was captured by the Houthis in early April. He was released on April 9 when the militiamen retreated from the area in which he was being held, according to the journalist’s Facebook page. The offices of Suhail TV in Sana’a were raided in March by Houthi militia members, according to a statement by the outlet, and several staff members were taken hostage, according to CPJ research. According to news reports, the channel is closely linked to the Islah Party, a political opponent of the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has allied with the Houthi movement.

The Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen has resulted in a large number of civilian casualties. Saudi military officials, facing criticism, have accused Houthi forces of using human shields and fighting within civilian populations, according to news reports.

Al-Masirah TV, the official news outlet of the Houthi movement, said the bombing in Dhamar resulted in a number of civilian casualties and the destruction of many buildings that had no military usage. The station did not mention the deaths of the two journalists.

CPJ called the press office of the Saudi Embassy in Washington in May 2015, seeking comment on the journalists’ death, and was told by an embassy spokeswoman to submit questions via email. CPJ emailed questions to the embassy on the same day, which included whether the building was targeted because it allegedly was a military installation and if the coalition was aware that there were journalists being held in the building. CPJ has not received a response.