STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's follow up on the reported death of a pivotal figure in the history of Yemen. Ali Abdullah Saleh was Yemen's president for three decades. Amid that country's civil war, he is now reported to have been killed by a rebel faction, the Houthis, who control much of the country. The Houthis were Saleh's allies until just this past weekend. NPR's Ruth Sherlock has been monitoring this story. Hi, Ruth.
RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hello.
INSKEEP: What evidence says the former president is dead?
SHERLOCK: Well, at the moment, there is a gruesome video that's being circulated by the sort of official media of one of the militias that claims to have killed him - and also on Twitter. And it shows a body, somebody that looks very much like Ali Abdullah Saleh, wrapped in a colorful blanket being dragged out of a pickup truck. And he - he's got blood on his shirt. In addition to that, members of his own political party have told Reuters that he has died. But this is all kind of very unnamed - based on unnamed sources at the moment.
INSKEEP: But we do have this video, which I'm looking at now, and it's quite disturbing to look at.
INSKEEP: So let's talk about who he is or really was. Whose side was he on before this weekend?
SHERLOCK: So he was the first president of Yemen, and he ruled for 34 years, and he stood down in 2012 in response to popular protests. But that wasn't the end of Ali Abdullah Saleh. He came back two years later after making an alliance with the Houthis, a tribal militia - sorry - an ethnic group in Yemen that formed a militia that stormed the capital, and along with the Houthis, he took control of Sana'a - that's the capital - and they have controlled the capital for about two years. So he was in this alliance with them, but there was always a competition for power between them. And in recent weeks, he felt that the Houthis were not doing this power-sharing agreement, that they had taken too much.
And so just on Friday, he broke ties with them and announced that he would actually be willing to change sides to ally with the other side in Yemen's civil war. That's the side that's of the Hadi government, the internationally recognized government which is backed by Saudi Arabia and a coalition behind Saudi Arabia. And so he was this kind of powerful, charismatic figure, and people I've - analysts I've spoken to say he was kind of the fulcrum of Yemen. You know, nothing happened in Yemen without his knowledge or his influence.
INSKEEP: What's it mean that he's gone then?
SHERLOCK: Well, that's exactly the big question. So some people I've spoken to say, you know, it's far too early to speculate who might take over, but he is going to be sort of - they're saying that now without him gone, the Saudis might take the gloves off and start fighting the Houthis, who are alleged to have been backed by Iran, in a much more intense way. So we can only expect this war to worsen. They're saying there's likely to be an intensification of the conflict, and that's not good for an already terrible humanitarian situation.
INSKEEP: Ruth, thanks very much for the update, really appreciate it.
SHERLOCK: Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ruth Sherlock reporting from Beirut on the reported death of the former president of Yemen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.