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Dec 25, 6:07 AM EST

Yemen senior intelligence official kidnapped

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Yemen senior intelligence official kidnapped

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Suspected Shiite rebels kidnapped Yemen's second highest intelligence official from his house in the capital Sanaa Thursday, security officials and a close associate of the general said.

The officials and the associate said gunmen came to the home of Maj. Gen. Yehia al-Marani at dawn, and demanded that the guards wake him up. The associate, who was familiar with the incident, said the general ordered his guards to put down their weapons to avoid a firefight, and went along with the gunmen. His personal guard and driver were also taken, but were later released.

The associate spoke anonymously for fear of retribution, while the officials are not authorized to brief reporters.

The associate and the officials identified the gunmen as Shiite rebels known as the Houthis, who took control of Sanaa in September, challenging the central government. The Houthis have imposed their hold on the capital, at one point besieging the defense ministry to prevent a senior official they opposed from entering the building. The rebels demanded President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi appoint a new government, accusing the previous one of being too close to fundamentalist Sunni Muslim groups.

Even though a new government, headed by an apolitical technocrat, has been named, the rebels are keeping up their security offensive and have seized a strategic port city, and other swaths of land in Yemen, claiming to be battling corruption and al-Qaida militants. Al-Qaida in Yemen is considered one of the group's most active branches in the world.

It is not immediately clear why the rebels wanted al-Marani, who is in charge of internal security. He was in charge of the intelligence department for 15 years in the northern province of Saada, the stronghold of the Shiite rebels. The rebels had battled the central government in a series of civil wars, but the fighting was largely contained to the area around Saada. The last war ended with a 2010 ceasefire before the uprising that forced longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in 2012.

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