At least 16 people were killed and dozens injured after a major attack on Aden airport, which appeared to be aimed at a plane carrying the newly formed government.
Loud explosions and gunfire were heard on Wednesday afternoon as Yemeni cabinet members disembarked. Clouds of smoke billowed from the terminal building, initial reports suggested the explosions had been caused by mortar shelling.
Images shared on social media showed blood, debris and broken glass scattered near the airport building and at least two bodies, one of them charred, on the ground. In another image, a man was depicted trying to help another whose clothes were torn.
The attack marks a bleak start for Yemen’s unity government that was sworn in last week in Saudi Arabia. The reorganization was designed to repair the dangerous gap between the internationally recognized government led by the president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), the organization in charge of Aden.
Damage to the airport could leave Yemen with a single fully operational airport for 28 million people in the blocked country.
Naguib al-Awg, Yemen’s communications minister, who was on the government plane, told the AP that he heard two explosions and suggested they were drone strikes.
“It would have been a disaster if the plane was bombed,” he said, insisting that the plane had been the target of the attack, as it was supposed to have landed earlier.
Cabinet members, including Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, and Saudi Ambassador Mohammed Said al-Jaber, were safely transferred to the presidential palace in the interim capital, Saudi media reported.
It was not immediately clear which of Yemen’s warring parties, including al Qaeda, was responsible for the attack.
Last year, Houthi rebels fired missiles at a military parade in Aden, killing dozens of people, in an attack that fueled tensions between the government and the STC.
Since the Houthi movement took over the capital, Sana’a, in 2014, the Yemeni government has worked mainly in exile in Saudi Arabia, from where the plane was flying on Wednesday.
Information Minister Moammer al Eryani claimed, in a Twitter post, that the Houthis were behind Wednesday’s attack, while Abdulmalik called it a “cowardly terrorist act” but refrained from blaming the rebels.
He said: “The attack … is part of the war being waged against the Yemeni state and our great people, and it will only increase our determination to … restore the state and stability.”
Yemen has been embroiled in a bitter civil war for six years that pits the Iranian-backed Houthis against a coalition of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The conflict has killed about 112,000 people and caused widespread famines and disease outbreaks, creating what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The fight took on a new dimension in 2017 after the formation of the STC, which has the support of the United Arab Emirates despite objections from coalition partners in Riyadh.
The struggle between the government and the STC for control of southern Yemen has plunged Aden in particular into episodes of unpredictable violence and has complicated the UN’s efforts with the peace process in general.
The new power-sharing cabinet was announced in December after more than a year of negotiations mediated by Saudi Arabia.
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