Yemeni airport attack kills 22 as new Saudi-backed government arrives

An attack on an airport in Yemen killed at least 22 people moments after members of the country’s newly sworn cabinet arrived, the last blow for a country struggling to emerge from a devastating conflict.

The sound of explosions followed by gunfire shook the airport in the city of Aden and sent people running across the runway, according to news material of the attack reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The blasts came moments after cabinet ministers from a Saudi-backed government landed in Riyadh. The government’s intelligence minister said all cabinet members were safe after the attack. A deputy public works minister was killed in the attack, officials said.

“The cowardly terrorist act directed at Aden Airport is part of the war being waged against the Yemeni state and our great people, and it will only deepen our decision to fulfill our duties,” said Maeen Abdulmalek Saeed , the prime minister in the new government, said in a tweet.

The Yemeni Interior Ministry attached to the Saudi-backed government said 22 people had been killed in the attack and more than 50 wounded. The local branch of Médecins Sans Frontières, the international charity for medical aid, said it was preparing for a “mass casualty” event.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said two of the staff were killed in the attack, while no one has been reported and three injured. The ICRC staff, a Yemeni citizen and a Rwandan citizen, pulled through the airport during the attack, the organization said.

People fled after an explosion at the airport in Aden, Yemen on Wednesday.


/ Associated Press

The attack further rocked Yemen, a country in the grip of a political and humanitarian crisis, after years of war, fueled in part by clashes between local powers.

The country is currently divided between Houthi rebels controlled by Iran and the capital San’a, and a variety of other factions, including the Saudi-backed government. Other Middle Eastern powers also have a hand in the conflict, including the United Arab Emirates, which is affiliated with the separatist Southern Transitional Council.

The violence presents a challenge to the new government, which was sworn in on December 26 as part of a Saudi-mediated power-sharing agreement aimed at fighting between loyalists of the country’s president and southern separatists allied with the United Arab Emirates is bound to end.

The Saudi and Emirate-backed camps have clashed in recent years, further disintegrating Yemen into a multidisciplinary conflict.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but Western officials and analysts said it was probably carried out by the Houthis, who were receiving military support from Iran. The Houthi’s deny involvement in the attack. The group also launched a precision strike at a military parade in Aden in August 2019, killing a senior Yemeni commander.

Yemen’s foreign minister linked to the new government, Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak, blamed the attack on Houthi rebels.

Western officials did not rule out the possibility that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or dissatisfied factions within the southern separatist camp could have been responsible.

Various parties to the conflict were also quickly blaming each other, with the separatist Southern Transitional Council blaming Qatar and Turkey.

“The real concern going forward is that this attack will divide the new government rather than unite it,” said Elana DeLozier, a Yemeni expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

” A Houthi attack should unite the new government in defense of a common enemy, but if parties in government cannot reach a united opinion on guilt, it will rather arouse suspicion and the new government of today fragment one off, ” she said.

It was unclear what caused the explosions at the airport. The video footage broadcast by Sky News Arabia showed that it was a missile that hit the tarmac. A source close to the Yemeni government said the source of the attack was three missiles launched from Houthi-controlled areas in central Taiz city.

Write to Jared Malsin by [email protected]

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