Rebel drone bombs Yemen military parade, killing at least six and threatening peace talks
Houthis claiming responsibility said the devastating attack targeted “invaders and mercenaries”. (AP: Jon Gambrell)
A bomb-laden drone flown by Yemen’s Houthi rebels has hit a military parade outside Aden, killing at least six troops from a Saudi-led coalition and their allies.
- The Houthi attack targeted top military officials of the Saudi-led coalition
- Yemen plunged into civil war in 2014, but there have been recent encouraging peace talks
- Iran has been accused by the US and UN of supplying arms to the Houthis
It struck the Al Anad Air Base, where American special forces once led their fight against Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch, targeting high-ranking military officials in Yemen’s internationally recognised government.
Two senior military officials were wounded.
Thursday’s brazen attack has threatened UN-brokered peace efforts to end the years-long war in the Arab world’s poorest nation.
It has also raised new questions about Iran’s alleged role in arming the Houthis with drone and ballistic missile technology, something long denied by Tehran despite researchers and UN experts linking the weapons to the country.
“Once again this proves that the Houthi criminal militias are not ready for peace and that they are exploiting truces in order for deployment and reinforcements,” Yemen’s Information Minister Moammar Al Eryani said.
“This is time for the international community to stand by the legitimate government and force the militias to give up their weapons and pull out of the cities.”
The Houthis immediately claimed the attack through their Al Masirah satellite news channel, saying they had targeted “invaders and mercenaries” at the base in the Southern province of Lahj, leaving “dozens of dead and wounded”.
Yemeni officials said that among the wounded were Mohammad Saleh Tamah, head of Yemen’s Intelligence Service, senior military commander Mohammad Jawas, and Lahj governor Ahmed Al Turki.
Authorities were still searching for wounded among the rubble hours after the attack.
Local reporter Nabil Al Qaiti was attending the ceremony and standing in front of the stage when he saw a drone approach and hover nearby, about 25 metres high in the air, minutes after the parade started.
Army spokesman Mohammed Al Naqib was delivering a speech from a podium when the drone exploded.
“It was a very strong explosion and we could feel the pressure,” he said, adding that two of the people standing next to him — a soldier and a journalist — were wounded.
Mr Al Qaiti saw many wounded but no dead.
“The drone was packed with explosives,” he said.
Some 8,000 soldiers had been taking part in the parade, as well as two governors and a large number of top military commanders including the chief of staff.
A country pushed to the brink
Children protest against the Saudi-led coalition outside the UN offices in Sanaa. (Reuters: Khaled Abdullah)
Yemen plunged into civil war in 2014 when the rebels captured Sanaa, and the Saudi-led coalition intervened a year later when they pushed further south.
The coalition, which is fighting alongside government troops, has since been trying to restore Yemen’s internationally recognised government to power.
Hopes were raised last month that the country was moving toward peace after the two sides agreed to a prisoner swap and cease-fire in the port city of Hodeida.
Rival forces were to withdraw to allow humanitarian aid flows to return and hopefully relieve a country pushed to the brink of famine by war.
Fighting has largely abated in Hodeida but progress on the withdrawal has been slow.
The UN humanitarian aid chief on Wednesday accused the rebels of blocking humanitarian supplies travelling from areas under their control to government-held areas.
Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council that the rebels also recently informed humanitarian agencies that 72 hours’ notice is required ahead of any movements instead of 48 hours.
Officials in the Saudi-led coalition have shown journalists a series of drones they said displayed a growing sophistication by the Houthis, starting first with plastic foam models that could be built by hobby kit, to one captured in April that closely resembled an Iranian-made drone.
Those drones have in the past been flown into the radar arrays of Saudi Arabia’s Patriot missile batteries, according to the research group Conflict Armament Research, disabling them and allowing the Houthis to fire ballistic missiles into the kingdom unchallenged.
Iran has been accused by the US and the UN of supplying ballistic missile technology and arms to the Houthis.