Yemen rebel attack on Saudi airport sets plane on fire
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. The attack threatened to escalate Yemen's grinding war. The Iran-aligned Houthis claimed responsibility for the assault, with military spokesman Yehia Sarea stressing that Houthis consider Abha airport to be a military, not civilian, target.
'Houthis continually demonstrate a desire to prolong the war'
The attack late Wednesday afternoon reportedly was the first to impact a civilian aircraft at the facility. Flight-tracking websites showed delayed and canceled flights scheduled to either take off or land at the airport. Flights at Abha airport resumed some time after the attack. White House spokesperson Jen Psaki condemned the attack, saying the Houthis continually demonstrate a desire to prolong the war.
Houthi rebels launched a bombing campaign six years ago
No one was hurt in the assault, but the damaged passenger plane at Abha airport served as a reminder of the danger that Houthi rebels pose to Saudi Arabia, which six years ago launched a bombing campaign that has devastated the Arab world's poorest country.
The group attacked with four bomb-laden drones
"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, spokesman for 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 attempt to target civilians."
The aircraft was flown by low-cost carrier FlyADeal
Photographs later aired by Saudi state television showed the aircraft, a three-year-old Airbus A320 flown by low-cost carrier FlyADeal. It appeared the drone had punched a hole through its fuselage, with scorch marks on the metal. An anchor on state television said there were no injuries on the ground from the fire. However, FlyADeal did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Houthis have targeted international airports, military installations within Saudi Arabia
Since 2015, the Houthis battling the Saudi-led military coalition 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 Patriot missile batteries, most recently on Sunday when the coalition said it intercepted five booby-trapped drones. Those attacks have wounded dozens and killed at least one person.
US forces trained Saudi troops on how to counter threats
As recently as late January, US 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, evade radar and detonate against targets in the kingdom.
In November 2017, Houthis attacked Riyadh's international airport
In November 2017, the Houthis even reached Riyadh's international airport. 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. Saudi officials have blamed Iran for providing ballistic missiles to the Houthis used in such attacks against the kingdom. Tehran denies arming the Houthis, despite evidence to the contrary.
In recent weeks, Houthis have escalated cross border attacks
In recent weeks, the Houthis have accelerated their push to wrest control of Yemen's oil-rich government stronghold of Marib and escalated their cross-border attacks. On Tuesday, UN envoy Martin Griffiths said he was concerned about hostilities in Marib, especially at a time of renewed diplomatic momentum.
Saudi Foreign Minister met US envoy to discuss the situation
On Wednesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan met the new US special envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking, Saudi state-run media reported, to discuss efforts to reach a political solution to the conflict. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden turned a spotlight on the conflict, declaring last week that the US would end its support of the Saudi-led military offensive, including relevant arms sales.
'US would continue to help Saudi Arabia defend against attacks'
The administration has moved to lift terrorist designation against the Houthis, citing the need to mitigate Yemen's humanitarian crisis. But Biden said, "The US would continue to help Saudi Arabia defend itself against outside attacks, as part of maintaining key security, counterterrorism, and military ties."