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Explosion heard in Riyadh as Saudi Arabia intercepts 'hostile target'

Capital's King Khaled International Airport reports number of flight delays, but unclear if these were linked to incident
It is rare for drones and missiles launched by the Houthis to reach Riyadh, about 700km from the Yemeni border (File pic/AFP)

Saudi Arabia intercepted a "hostile target" over Riyadh on Saturday, said state media in the kingdom, which has come under repeated attack from Yemen's Houthi rebels since 2015.

It was unclear who was behind the incident, with the kingdom's brief statement stopping short of accusing anyone and the Houthis saying they were not involved.

A blast was heard in the Saudi capital at around 11am (08:00 GMT), AFP correspondents reported.

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"I heard a loud sound and thought that something had fallen from the sky," said one resident, who lives in the Al-Sulaimaniyah district of Riyadh. "The whole house was shaking."

The Saudi-led coalition, which backs Yemen's internationally recognised government against the Houthis, said it had "intercepted and destroyed a hostile air target going towards Riyadh," without elaborating, according to state-run Al Ekhbariya television station.

Riyadh's King Khaled International Airport said there were a number of flight delays, but it was not immediately clear if they were linked to Saturday's incident.

Houthi denial

Rebel spokesman Yahya Sarie said the Houthis were not behind the incident and "have not conducted any offensive operations against the aggressor countries in the past 24 hours". 

In a statement carried by rebel media, Sarie added that "any operation is announced with full pride and honour". 

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Saudi Arabia has been repeatedly targeted by the Houthis since its 2015 intervention in Yemen, where it leads a military coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates and which backs the government.

It is rare, however, for drones and missiles launched by the Houthis to reach the kingdom's capital, which lies about 700km from the Yemeni border.

The incident comes only days after Joe Biden was sworn-in as US president, replacing Donald Trump.

According to Biden's pick for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, the new US administration will quickly revisit the designation of Yemen's Houthi rebels as terrorists.

At his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Blinken said he would "immediately" review the Trump administration's labelling of the insurgents earlier this month, fearing the move was worsening a humanitarian crisis.