Twelve people were injured by falling debris Thursday as the Saudi military blew up a Yemeni rebel “bomb-laden” drone targeting an airport close to the border, officials said.
Fragments fell to the ground after the interception of the drone over Abha International Airport, which has previously been targeted in similar assaults by the Iran-backed insurgents.
The Huthis claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had targeted an airport “used for military action against Yemen” and warning citizens to “stay away” from such sites.
The United States was quick to condemn the attack, and pledged to work with Saudi Arabia to hold the Huthis “accountable”.
Yemen’s Huthis, fighting a Saudi-led coalition since 2015, have frequently launched drone attacks at targets in the kingdom including airports and oil installations.
In recent weeks, the Huthis also launched deadly cross-border attacks for the first time against fellow coalition member the United Arab Emirates, after suffering a series of battlefield defeats at the hands of UAE-trained pro-government forces.
The spokesman of the Saudi-led coalition, Brigadier General Turki al-Malki, said “Saudi air defences thwarted an attempt to deliberately and systematically target travelling civilians and staff at Abha International Airport by the terrorist, Iran-backed Huthi militia using a bomb-laden drone”.
Twelve civilians were injured from flying debris, including from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, he added in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. Two Saudi citizens were among those hurt.
In response, the Saudi-led coalition said it would strike positions from which the Huthis launch drones in Sanaa, the rebel-held capital of Yemen.
“We ask civilians in Sanaa to evacuate civilian sites used for military purposes for the next 72 hours,” it said, quoted by SPA.
Malki said Abha was a “civilian airport that is protected under international humanitarian law” and accused the rebels of a “war crime”.
The United States strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack against Abha in Saudi Arabia.The Houthis have claimed responsibility for this attack, and we will work with our Saudi and international partners to hold them accountable #whitehouse statement #SaudiArabia #Yemen pic.twitter.com/GogH5SEzU0
— Nadia Bilbassy Charters ناديا البلبيسي (@nadia_bilbassy) February 10, 2022
President Joe Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan said the “United States strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack”.
On Wednesday, Biden reaffirmed in a phone call with Saudi King Salman the “US commitment to support Saudi Arabia in the defence of its people and territory” from Huthi attacks.
Border provinces of Saudi Arabia have come under frequent drone or missile attack by the rebels, in what the Huthis say is retaliation for a deadly bombing campaign carried out by coalition aircraft.
Most Huthi projectiles have been safely intercepted by Saudi air defences, but in late December an attack on Jizan province on the Red Sea coast killed two people and left seven wounded.
In December, the coalition said the Huthis had fired more than 400 ballistic missiles and launched over 850 attack drones at Saudi Arabia in the past seven years, killing a total of 59 civilians.
UAE on alert
The UAE has also been on alert since a drone and missile attack killed three oil workers in Abu Dhabi on January 17.
The attack was the first deadly assault on the UAE claimed by the Huthis, opening a new phase in the Yemeni war and puncturing the Gulf state’s image as a regional safe haven.
The UAE-trained Giants Brigades have this year inflicted heavy losses on the Huthis, disrupting their efforts to seize Marib city, the government’s last major stronghold in the rebel-dominated north.
Yemen’s civil war broke out in 2014 when the Huthis seized Sanaa, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene the following year to prop up the internationally recognised government.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed directly or indirectly in the conflict, while millions have been displaced in what the UN calls the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.
On Thursday, the Norwegian Refugee Council said civilian deaths and injuries in the war have almost doubled since UN human rights monitors were controversially removed in October.
“The removal of this crucial human rights investigative body took us back to unchecked, horrific violations,” NRC’s Yemen country director Erin Hutchinson said.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk