An attack on an airport in Yemen killed at least 22 people moments after members of the country’s newly sworn-in cabinet arrived, the latest blow to a country struggling to emerge from a devastating conflict.
The sound of explosions followed by gunfire shook the airport in the city of Aden, sending people running across the runway, according to news footage of the attack reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The blasts took place moments after cabinet ministers from a government backed by Saudi Arabia had landed from Riyadh. The government’s information minister said all the members of the cabinet were safe following the attack. A deputy minister of public works was killed in the attack, officials said.
“The cowardly terrorist act that targeted Aden airport is part of the war being waged against the Yemeni state and our great people, and it will only deepen our resolve to fulfill our duties” said Maeen Abdulmalek Saeed, the prime minister in the new government, in a tweet.
The Yemeni interior ministry affiliated with the Saudi-backed government said 22 people were killed in the attack and more than 50 wounded. The local branch of Doctors Without Borders, the international medical relief charity, said it was preparing for a “mass casualty” event.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said two of its staff were killed in the attack, while one other was unaccounted for and three were injured. The ICRC staff, a Yemeni citizen and a Rwandan national, were transiting through the airport at the time of the attack, the organization said.
The attack further rattled Yemen, a country in the grips of a political and humanitarian crisis after years of a war fueled in part by clashing regional powers.
The country is currently split between Iran-aligned Houthi rebels who control the capital San’a and a variety of other factions, including the Saudi-backed government. Other Middle East powers also have a hand in the conflict, including the United Arab Emirates which is allied with separatist Southern Transitional Council.
The violence presents a challenge to the new government sworn in on Dec. 26 as part of a power-sharing agreement brokered by Saudi Arabia aimed at ending fighting between loyalists of the country’s president and southern separatists who are allied with the United Arab Emirates.
The Saudi and Emirati-backed camps have clashed in recent years, further splintering Yemen into a multisided conflict.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but Western officials and analysts said it was likely carried out by the Houthis, who receive military backing from Iran. The Houthis denied involvement in the attack. The group also launched a precise strike on a military parade in Aden in August 2019, killing a senior Yemeni commander.
Yemen’s foreign minister affiliated with the new government, Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak, blamed the attack on Houthi rebels.
The Western officials didn’t rule out the possibility that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or disgruntled factions within the southern separatist camp could have been responsible.
Different parties to the conflict were also quick to blame each other, with the separatist Southern Transitional Council blaming Qatar and Turkey.
“The real concern going forward is that this attack divides the new government rather than unites it,” Elana DeLozier, a Yemen 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 the government cannot come to a united view about culpability, it will instead stir suspicions and fragment the new government from day one,” she said.
It was unclear what caused the blasts at the airport. Video footage broadcast by Sky News Arabia showed what appeared to be a missile hitting the tarmac. A source close to the Yemen government said the source of the attack was three missiles that were launched from Houthi-controlled areas of the central city of Taiz.
—Stephen Kalin contributed to this article.
Write to Jared Malsin at [email protected]
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Appeared in the December 31, 2020, print edition as ‘Attack Targets New Yemen Cabinet.’