UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. experts say it’s highly likely a deadly missile attack on the airport in Yemen’s key southern port of Aden as the country’s new government was arriving was carried out by Houthi rebels.
Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed has said the Dec. 30 attack that killed at least 25 people and wounded 110 others was meant “to eliminate” the new government. He blamed the Iranian-backed Houthis for the daring assault.
In a key section of a U.N. report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, a panel of experts concluded “with very high confidence” that “at least two missiles were launched from Taiz airport towards Aden on Dec. 30, 2020, and that it is likely that two additional missiles were launched from the police training center in Dhamar City.”
“The panel has been able to confirm that both locations were under the control of the Houthi forces at the time of the launches,” the panel said.
U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations were private, said Russia blocked a communique from the panel on its findings.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Houthi rebels. A Saudi-led coalition supported by the U.S. and allied with the government has been fighting the rebels since March 2015. The conflict has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and pushed thousands of Yemenis to the brink of starvation.
Houthi officials have denied being behind the attack and sought to blame unspecified groups in the Saudi-led coalition.
The attack took place moments after a plane carrying prime minister Saeed and his Cabinet members landed at the airport. AP footage from Aden’s airport showed members of the government delegation disembarking as the blast shook the tarmac, with many ministers rushing back inside the plane or running down the stairs, seeking shelter.
The new Yemeni government was formed in December to end a dangerous political rift with southern separatists who are backed by the United Arab Emirates. The internal rift threatened the UAE’s partnership with Saudi Arabia that is fighting the Houthis in Yemen.
The U.N. experts said they analyzed CCTV footage from Aden airport that “clearly shows a missile-shaped form … between 5-5.5 meters” and an “impact angle (that) points towards a ballistic missile.”
The “high degree of precision visible in some of the impact leads to the conclusion that guided missiles were used,” the panel said.
The experts’ report concluded that “available evidence points strongly towards the use of solid fuel, short-distance, surface-to-surface, ballistic missiles.”
The report said “Houthi forces have been using short-range ballistic weapons or several years” in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, commonly the Badr-1 which the Houthis unveiled in their media in February 2017.
The panel said an analysis of debris from the attack found that the “diameter and fragmentation warhead, as well as the laboratory analysis of the metal strongly points (to) the Badr-1 missile family.”
While Badr-1 missiles have been used frequently by the Houthis against targets in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the panel underlined that it “has not yet seen any evidence of Badr-1 family missiles being used by any other armed group in Yemen.”
The Houthis have carried out similar attacks in the past.
In 2015, former Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and members of his Cabinet survived a missile attack, blamed on the Houthis, that struck an Aden hotel used by the government. Last year, the Houthis fired a missile at a military parade of a militia loyal to the UAE at a base in Aden, killing dozens.