Saudi Arabia ‘intercepts ballistic missile over Riyadh’

Saudi-led coalition blames Yemen’s Houthis as state TV broadcasts footage of explosions in the air over Riyadh.

Cars are parked on the track on the second day of Diriyah E-Prix, in the Saudi capital Riyadh on February 26, 2021 [Fayez Nureldine/ AFP]

Multiple explosions were heard and the night skies above Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, lit up with bright flashes on Saturday as a Saudi-led military coalition announced the thwarting of a missile attack that it blamed on Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

Brigadier General Turki al-Malki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said in a statement the Houthis launched a ballistic missile towards Riyadh and three booby-trapped drones towards the province of Jizan, with a fourth towards the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait.

No casualties were reported, although state-run Al Ekhbariya television said fragments of the missile scattered over several Riyadh neighbourhoods, damaging at least one home.

The Iranian-aligned Houthis said they deployed a ballistic missile and nine drones at “sensitive targets” in Riyadh and six drones at military sites in Abha and Khamis Mushait.

The attacks came as Saudi Arabia hosted a Formula E championship on the outskirts of Riyadh, which state media said was attended by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Al Ekhbariya broadcast footage of what appeared to be explosions in the air over Riyadh, and social media users also posted videos, with some showing residents shrieking as they watched the fiery blast pierce the night sky, which appeared to be the kingdom’s Patriot missile batteries intercepting the ballistic missile.

Al-Malki said the Houthis were trying in “a systematic and deliberate way to target civilians”.

The US Embassy in Riyadh issued a warning to Americans, calling on them to “stay alert in case of additional future attacks”. Flight-tracking websites showed several flights scheduled to land at Riyadh’s international airport diverted or delayed in the hour after the attack.

As Yemen’s years-long war grinds on, Houthi missile and drone attacks on the kingdom have grown commonplace, only rarely causing damage. Earlier this month, the Houthis struck an empty passenger plane at Saudi Arabia’s southwestern Abha airport with a bomb-laden drone, causing it to catch fire.

Meanwhile, five civilians including a child were killed Sunday when their house was bombarded near Yemen’s strategic Red Sea port of Hodeidah.

The Saudi-backed government and Huthi rebels traded blame for the devastating attack near frontlines south of the Huthi-held port.

“Five civilians, including a woman and a child, were killed in a mortar bomb strike on their residence by the Huthis,” a government military official told AFP news agency.

But the Iran-backed Huthis, according to the rebel-run Saba news agency, said the explosion was caused by two air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in the war in 2015 to back the internationally recognised government.

Hodeida, 145km (90 miles) southwest of the rebel-held capital Sanaa, is a lifeline gateway for food, fuel and humanitarian aid.

The United Nations last month warned that thousands of Yemeni civilians were at risk in the western Hodeidah province after fighting escalated.

The Saudi-led coalition has faced widespread international criticism for aerial bombing campaigns in Yemen that have killed hundreds of civilians and hit non-military targets, including schools, hospitals and wedding parties.

Ending support

US President Joe Biden announced this month he was ending his country’s support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, including “relevant” arms sales. But he stressed that the US would continue to help Saudi Arabia defend itself against outside attacks.

The Houthis overran Yemen’s capital and much of the country’s north in 2014, forcing the government into exile and months later, prompting Saudi Arabia and its allies to intervene. But years of bombing have failed to shake the rebels’ hold on Sanaa, and they have steadily expanded their reach in the country’s north.

The Houthis are now pressing ahead with a deadly offensive to seize the Yemeni government stronghold of Marib, where some of the country’s richest oil fields are found.

Yemen’s grinding conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions, according to international organisations, sparking what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies