Yemen’s president could be assassinated if he leaves Saudi Arabia and returns to the war-ravaged country, a Yemeni official has warned.
The government official told Al Jazeera that the kingdom feared for President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s life, and “urged” the 72-year-old to avoid returning to Yemen’s coastal city of Aden.
The official also rubbished media reports from earlier this week that claimed Hadi was being held under house arrest in Riyadh.
“Claims that Hadi is under house arrest are complete rubbish,” the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.
“Hadi can go anywhere he wants, he can even travel abroad, but from what I understand there is a real risk to his life should he return to Aden.”
Hadi and much of his government have been based in Riyadh since 2015 when Houthi rebels, in cooperation with troops loyal to Hadi’s predecessor, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, captured large expanses of the country, including Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.
“There are forces there that would like to see him targeted, and that’s why the Saudis don’t feel it’s right for him to come back. They have urged him to stay in Riyadh until the security situation improves,” the official added.
The official did not say which forces wanted to “target” Hadi, but large parts of the south and south-east are under the control of the United Arab Emirates and militias backed by Abu Dhabi.
The comments come just days after several international news organisations reported that Hadi, along with his sons, aides and military officials – who haven’t visited Yemen since February – had been placed under house arrest.
“When Hadi asks to go, they [Saudi Arabia] respond it’s not safe for him to return as there are plotters who want to take his life and [the] Saudis fear for his life,” an official was quoted as saying.
Hadi became Yemen’s president in 2012 under a US-backed deal that saw Ali Abdullah Saleh step down from power after a year of protests left over 2,000 people dead.
He was supposed to serve a two-year term but repeatedly postponed elections as negotiations over a new constitution through a National Dialogue Conference failed.
But it was his decision to cut fuel subsides in the summer of 2014 that sparked angry protests and forced thousands onto the capital’s streets.
The Houthis exploited the unrest and marched south from their stronghold of Saada province to Sanaa, before surrounding the presidential palace – rendering Hadi powerless.
After escaping house arrest, Hadi fled the capital to Aden before seeking sanctuary in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
But even before the turmoil, Hadi was deeply unpopular among many Yemenis.
Having served for almost 18 years as vice president in Saleh’s government, his failure to dismantle a complicated network of alliances Saleh set up between the country’s military, civil and tribal groups, drew anger from some of the country’s biggest tribes.
“Hadi’s faltering popularity goes hand-in-hand with the UAE’s growing power in south Yemen,” Murad Alazzany, a Yemeni political analyst and professor at Sanaa University, told Al Jazeera.
“His failure to return to Yemen underscores his loss of authority – even in the south that is nominally under his administration.
“Yemen is incredibly polarised, and he’s to blame for this. He’s failed to offer a practical political settlement and doesn’t possess the personality or any of the necessary skills to rally the people, and let’s not forget – he has zero legitimacy.
“He has also failed to gain any public support in the north, and this is mirrored in the south. Very few southerners, and even fewer people who believe in secession, support him,” Alazzany added.
The UAE entered Yemen’s war in March 2015 as part of a Saudi-led coalition to restore Hadi’s “legitimate” government.
But in the last two years, it has trained, financed and armed militias in Yemen that only answer to it, set up prisons, and created a security establishment parallel to Hadi’s government. Those groups answer to Aidarous al-Zubaidi, the leader of South Yemen’s secessionist movement.
Reports by rights groups have also found that the UAE has funded and directed a ‘Security Belt’ – a force created in 2016 that has been responsible for arbitrarily detaining and abducting people.
“Hadi is not welcome in Yemen,” Ahmed al-Sharabi, a 40-year-old maths teacher in the capital, told Al Jazeera.
“He should never return. He’s responsible for several crimes and is one of the main people to blame for the high number of civilian casualties since the start of the war.”
Since March 2015, fighting has killed more than 10,000 people and left over seven million in need of food assistance. Millions of others do not have adequate access to health, water and sanitation services.
Azzubair Abdullah Hasan, a physician treating cholera victims in the city’s Aljiraf district, told Al Jazeera that Hadi could still be accepted if he “ended the war.”
“If Hadi can do the impossible and bring and end to this war, then yes.”
“But right now, the people are more concerned about welfare than politics. Anyone who can feed them and take care of them will be welcomed.”
Despite being at war for more than two years, the coalition has failed to achieve its stated aims as Houthi rebels continue to hold the capital Sanaa and large parts of the country’s north.
Follow Al Jazeera’s Faisal Edroos on Twitter: @FaisalEdroos