Yemen’s Houthis on Monday said they had arrested a “spy network” operating under the cover of humanitarian organizations, after aid workers, including 11 UN staff, were held last week.

The Iran-backed group claimed the network was linked to the CIA and had been carrying out “espionage” activities in Yemen for years, initially through the United States embassy, before it suspended operations in Sanaa in 2015.

“An American-Israeli spy network was arrested,” the Iran-backed group’s security wing announced in a statement, saying those held worked under “the cover of international organizations and UN agencies”.

The Houthis, who are engaged in a long-running civil war that has triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, did not specify how many people were arrested.

The United Nations on Friday said 11 of its local staff were among aid workers abducted by the Houthis in several Houthi-run parts of Yemen, including six members of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government said “dozens of employees” of UN agencies and other international organizations were detained as part of a “massive abduction campaign”.

The Yemeni Mayyun Organization for Human Rights said at least 18 were held in “simultaneous” arrests that took place in the capital Sanaa, the key port of Hodeidah, Amran and Saada, the Houthi’s traditional stronghold.

The Houthis have kidnapped, arbitrarily detained and tortured hundreds of civilians, including United Nations and NGO workers, since the start of Yemen’s conflict in 2014, according to Human Rights Watch.

With Hachem Osseiran AFP