armed men killed journalist in Aden (expanded )

A Yemeni journalist has been shot dead in the southern city of Aden in an incident that is likely to inflame tensions between the Saudi-backed government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) that seeking independence for the south.

Armed men opened fire on Nabil al-Quaety, 34,  a video journalist and photographer who contributed to Agence France-Presse, outside his home in Aden’s Dar Saad district, the officials said.

Security officials told AFP that the gunmen escaped. The head of Aden’s security administration, Abdullah al-Jahafi, posted a message on Facebook on Tuesday evening that said several suspects had been detained, but there has been no official announcement of any arrests.

Al-Quaety, was dead before reaching a nearby hospital, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

“We are shocked by the senseless killing of a courageous journalist doing his job despite threats and intimidation,” said AFP’s Global News Director Phil Chetwynd.

Al-Quaety was married with three children, and a fourth on the way, AFP said.

Yemen’s journalists union condemned the killing and urged security authorities in Aden to investigate and bring those involved to court.

Sabrina Bennoui, of Reporters Without Borders, said: “Nabil’s murder is unacceptable and constitutes a terrible new blow to journalism in Yemen. The country’s division and the polarization of its media have reached a critical point in which journalists are now favorite targets, regardless of the region they cover.”

Quaety was a vocal supporter of independence for southern Yemen. The secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) has been in conflict with the UN-recognized Yemeni government, a former ally, since 2017. Both the STC and the Yemeni government are fighting against Houthi rebels who seized control of the capital, Sana’a, in 2014.

The STC is backed by the United Arab Emirates, the Yemeni government is supported by Saudi Arabia.

Yemen’s five-year-old war has also drawn in western powers which sell arms and supply technical assistance to the Saudi-led coalition.

Both,  STC and the Saudi-backed government called for a “transparent” investigation into Quaety’s death.

Several journalists in Yemen have been killed in airstrikes and bombings during the war, and hundreds more imprisoned, tortured or forced to flee the country. Quaety’s killing appears to be the first targeted killing of a media worker since 2015, when the journalist Abdel Karim al-Khaiwani was shot dead in Sana’a in an attack claimed by al-Qaida.

Quaety’s support for the STC was frequently criticized by members of Islah Islamic party, the main bloc of the Yemeni government, who also accused him of being funded by the UAE.

On Tuesday there were tributes to Quaety on social media, as well as allegations that Islah was behind the killing.

Fatima Abo Alasrar, a non-resident fellow at the US-based Middle East Institute, said: “This is such a shocking incident. It will have political implications and increase the sense of vulnerability and collective grievances [of southerners]. If this was Islah, why would they single out Nabil? Is it because he was an easy target? An investigation is badly needed.”

Quaety was a finalist in 2016 in Britain’s Rory Peck awards for freelance journalists, for work the judges described as “rare and outstanding”.

AFP’s global news director, Phil Chetwynd, said: “We are shocked by the senseless killing of a courageous journalist doing his job despite threats and intimidation. Through his work with AFP over the past five years, Nabil had helped to show a global audience the full horror of the conflict in Yemen. The quality of his work had been widely recognised. The thoughts of everybody at AFP are with his wife and children today.”

Yemen ranks 167th out of 180 countries listed in Reporters Without Borders’ world press freedom index. Four media workers are facing the death penalty in Sana’a after being accused of spying.

Both sides of the conflict in Yemen have violated press freedoms, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.