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Yemen: Deadly attack on Aden airport after new government flies in

At least 22 people reported dead and dozens wounded in attack shortly after ministers arrived from Saudi Arabia
Yemen's minister of information has blamed the attack on Houthi militia backed by Iran (AFP)
By in
Taiz, Yemen

​At least 22 people have been killed and dozens more wounded in an attack on Aden airport, shortly after a plane carrying a newly formed Yemeni government arrived from Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Yemen's interior ministry blamed the Houthi movement for the attack, and put the death toll at 22. Medical sources told AFP at least 26 were killed in the attack and more than 50 wounded.

Three large explosions rocked the airport as ministers were greeted stepping off their plane, sending debris scattered across the tarmac.

The officials, including Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed and Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed bin Saeed al-Jaber, were taken to the nearby presidential palace for safety.

However, a source said a loud explosion was later heard near the palace. Local media reports said a drone was intercepted in the vicinity, causing the sound.

'The majority of the casualties are employees of the airport and people who attended to receive the government, and none of the ministers was injured or killed'

- Airport guard

An official source in Aden denied there had been an attack near the palace.

Speaking by telephone, a guard at the airport, who wished to remain anonymous due to security issues, told MEE that dozens had been killed in three staggered attacks.

"The first attack targeted the hall of the airport while the cabinet members were still coming out of the plane, and then two other attacks took place while the cabinet members were in the plane," said the guard.

Video footage from the airport showed destroyed vehicles and smashed glass. Others showed damage to the terminal's concrete walls and plumes of white smoke rising from the scene. One appears to catch a projectile slamming into the ground from the sky.

Yemenis welcome members of the new unity government at the Aden Airport before the attack (AFP)
Yemenis at Aden airport welcome members of the new unity government before the attack (AFP)

"The majority of the casualties are employees of the airport and people who attended to receive the government, and none of the ministers was injured or killed," the guard said.

"We hope they can recover soon," he added. "The explosion happened suddenly and we couldn't identify its source, but it seems to be a missile from a drone, or other kinds of missiles.

"The attacks tried to target the government that we have been waiting a long time for, and there were dozens of victims, so there should be an international investigation about these attacks."

Among the dead was journalist Adeeb al-Ginani. Other members of the press were wounded.

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen said three of its staff were killed, and three others were wounded.

"The deaths and injuries caused by the blast are a heavy blow for many families," Katharina Ritz, the Red Cross head of delegation in Yemen, said in a statement.

In a tweet, Abdulmalik Saeed 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 increase our insistence on fulfilling our duties until the coup is ended." 

The Houthi political council denied the Iran-aligned movement was behind the attack, saying the accusations were an attempt to drag them into internal disputes.

The southern port city of Aden has been mired in violence because of a rift between separatists and Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi's government.

The separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), which seeks independence for south Yemen, declared self rule in Aden earlier this year, triggering violent clashes and complicating UN efforts to forge a permanent ceasefire in the overall conflict.

However, following talks, Yemen's internationally recognised government, the STC and other parties formed a new power-sharing cabinet on 18 December.

The new government was formed under the auspices of Riyadh, which leads a military coalition against Houthi rebels, who took control of the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

The 24-member cabinet was sworn in on Saturday by Hadi, who has lived in Riyadh since the fall of Sanaa.

Chaos in Aden

Ayman*, an Aden resident who works for a local company, told MEE there was now chaos in the city, with many people stuck in their homes.

"We were very happy to hear about the return of the government, but as soon as the ministers arrived at the airport, attacks returned to Aden; so we are pessimistic about the coming period," he said.

"After the attacks, our company asked us to leave work and go home, and this is what almost all companies did at noon in Aden," he said.

"Now we are at home, and the streets are blocked with many checkpoints."

'We were very happy to hear about the return of the government, but as soon as the ministers arrived at the airport attacks returned to Aden, so we are pessimistic about the coming period'

- Ayman, Aden resident

Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in Yemen's grinding five-year war, which has triggered what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

Deep divisions have grown between the forces opposed to the Houthis, and the Riyadh-sponsored push to form the unity government was designed to mend rifts.

Some Yemenis had been demanding the return of the government to help with economic development and reduce the suffering of the people.

"The new government is supposed to focus on development, but it seems that it will bring attacks back to Aden with it, so we hope that we don't hear any further attacks in coming days," said Ayman.

"The priority for the cabinet ministers now will be how to protect themselves from attacks, and I think they will return to Saudi Arabia soon."

*Not his real name