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Yemen’s Houthi rebels say they executed nine people for their alleged involvement in the murder of a top Houthi official in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike more than three years ago

SANAA, Yemen – Houthi rebels in Yemen on Saturday executed nine people they said were involved in the murder of a senior rebel official in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike more three years.

The execution was carried out by firing squad and took place in public early in the morning in the rebel-held capital Sana’a. The Iranian-backed Houthis distributed photos apparently showing the killings. Hundreds of people witnessed the execution, mostly Houthis and their supporters.

The executions took place despite repeated calls by rights groups and lawyers to stop the killings and retry the suspects. They said the trial, which was held in a rebel-controlled court where the nine were convicted and sentenced to death, was flawed.

The Houthis have accused the Nine of spying for the Saudi-led coalition, which has been waging war against the rebels for years in an effort to bring the internationally recognized Yemeni government back to power.

Al-Samad, who served as chairman of the Houthi-backed political body, was killed along with six of his companions in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in the coastal city of Hodeida.

The nine, including a 17-year-old boy, were arrested months after al-Samad’s murder. They were forcibly reported missing for months in secret locations where they suffered inhuman treatment, according to Abdel-Majeed Sabra, a Yemeni lawyer representing one of those executed.

The executions were also shown on large screens in Tahrir Square in Sana’a. The executions and their display sparked outrage across the country, including among relatives of the nine people and also in Sana’a, where people refrain from criticizing the rebels for fear of reprisals.

“What I would say. I can’t believe what happened. It is madness and a crime, ”Abdel-Rahman Noah, a brother of one of the executed, told The Associated Press.

Another relative said she did not expect the Houthis to carry out the executions. “We were shocked. … We thought they were just threatening, “she said in tears, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the rebels.

The rebels did not respond to requests for comment.

The nine wore a sky blue prison outfit with their hands tied behind their backs. Masked guards led them to an open area and forced them to lie on their stomachs. Another policeman with a rifle shot them in the back.

One of the executed appeared frightened as he waited his turn to be shot; an armed Houthi was seen holding it tight, possibly so it wouldn’t fall.

Several human rights groups, including the United States-based American Center for Justice, which tracks human rights violations in Yemen, called on the UN on Friday to intervene to stop the executions. The groups said the trial had “included flagrant violations of guarantees for a fair trial and deprived individuals of sufficient defenses.”

Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since 2014, when the Houthis swept much of the north and seized Sana’a, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition went to war the following year alongside the government.

The stalemate in the conflict has killed more than 130,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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Magdy reported aboard the Geo Barents in the Mediterranean Sea.

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ABC News