Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Wednesday targeted an airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia with bomb-laden drones, causing a civilian plane on the tarmac to catch fire, the kingdom’s state television reported.
No one was hurt in the attack, but the damaged passenger plane at Abha airport served as a powerful reminder of the danger that the Iran-backed Houthis pose to Saudi Arabia, which nearly six years ago launched a bombing campaign that has devastated Yemen.
President Joe Biden on Friday lifted a terrorist designation against the Houthis, citing the need to mitigate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.
The Houthis soon claimed responsibility for the assault, with spokesman Yehia Sarea saying the Houthis consider Abha airport to be a military, not civilian, target.
“This targeting comes in response to the continued aerial bombardment and the brutal siege of our country,” Sarea said, adding the group attacked with four bomb-laden drones.
Col. Turki al-Maliki, the spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen, said forces earlier intercepted and destroyed two drones launched by Houthis toward the country’s south. He condemned the assault as a “systematic and deliberate attempt to target civilians.”
Photographs later aired by Saudi state television showed the aircraft, a 3-year-old Airbus A320 flown by the airline FlyADeal.
It appeared the drone had punched a hole through its fuselage, with scorch marks on the metal. FlyADeal did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Since 2015, the Houthis have targeted international airports, military installations and critical oil infrastructure within Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis repeatedly have used drones against Saudi Arabia, including crashing them into the kingdom’s missile batteries, most recently on Sunday when the coalition said it intercepted five drones.
Those attacks, often striking near the southern cities of Abha and Jizan, have wounded dozens and killed at least one person in recent years.
As recently as late January, U.S. forces stationed at Prince Sultan Air Base near Riyadh trained Saudi troops on how to counter the threat posed by drones, which can fly low to the ground and evade radar.
In November 2017, the Houthis even reached Riyadh’s international airport, deep inside the kingdom.
No one was hurt in the attack, which marked the first time that a Houthi missile had come so close to a heavily populated center. Riyadh is around 620 miles north of the border with Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country.
Saudi officials have blamed Iran for providing ballistic missiles to the Houthis used in such attacks. Tehran denies arming to the Houthis, despite evidence to the contrary.
The attack late Wednesday afternoon reportedly was the first to impact a civilian aircraft at the facility. Flights at the airport resumed some time after the attack.
The U.S. Air Force’s Central Command, based at Al-Udeid Air Base in neighboring Qatar, declined to comment on the assault.
On Wednesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with the new U.S. special envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking to discuss efforts to reach a political solution to the conflict.
Yemen’s war started in 2014, when the rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and other countries, intervened months later to dislodge the Houthis and restore the recognized government.
The war has killed some 130,000 people and spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.