SANAA, Yemen — Officers suspected to be loyalists of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh are leading a mutiny inside the headquarters of an elite paramilitary unit, seeking to oust their commander on Thursday, officials said.
The officials say gunfire was heard Thursday afternoon inside the Special Forces headquarters, located in the heart of the capital near the presidential palace. The mutineers chanted "leave leave" and tried to storm the office of Mohammed Mansour al-Ghadraa, their new commander. Al-Ghadraa was appointed in September.
Shiite rebels who seized the capital in September deployed their militiamen, officials said, adding that Presidential Guards cordoned off the area with armored vehicles and soldiers.
The unit, part of the Interior Ministry, was led for nearly a decade by Saleh's nephew, Yahia Saleh, before he was removed in 2012. It's not immediately clear whom the mutineers want to replace al-Ghadraa.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
Yahia Saleh's removal was part of a shakeup by Saleh's successor Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in response to widespread demands to purge Saleh's loyalists from the security forces and army. Saleh and Shiite rebels known as Houthis have joined ranks in weakening Hadi, sweeping through cities and towns, and prompting the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Saleh and two Houthi commanders.
Saleh and the Houthis are former foes who were engaged in a six-year war starting in 2004 before reaching a truce in 2010. Saleh was forced to step down after a yearlong uprising in 2011. He remains a major power broker thanks to a U.S.-backed, Gulf-brokered deal which gave his party a share of power and granted him immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down.
In response to the sanctions, the country's ruling party the General People's Congress — which is split between Hadi and Saleh supporters — sacked Hadi from the party leadership and replaced him with another senior aide.
On Thursday, party leaders in Yemen's southern provinces including Aden, issued a joint statement rejecting the party's removal of Hadi and describing his dismissal as "void."