Aden airport blasts kill 16 in attack 'directed at Yemen government'

At least 26 people have been killed and more than 50 injured after a huge attack on the airport in Aden, which appeared targeted at a plane carrying the newly formed government.

Loud explosions and gunfire were heard on Wednesday afternoon as members of Yemen’s cabinet disembarked. Clouds of smoke billowed from the terminal building, with initial reports suggesting the blasts had been caused by mortar shelling.

Images shared on social media showed blood, rubble and broken glass strewn near the airport building and at least two bodies, one of them charred, on the ground. In another image a man was seen trying to help up another whose clothes were torn.

The attack marks a grim start for Yemen’s unity government sworn in last week in Saudi Arabia. The reshuffle was designed to mend the dangerous rift between the internationally recognised government led by the president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), the organisation in charge of Aden.

Dust rises after the explosions at Aden airport
Dust rises after the explosions at Aden airport. Photograph: Fawaz Salman/Reuters

Damage to the airport could leave Yemen with just one fully functioning airport for 28 million people in the blockaded country, at Seiyun.

Naguib al-Awg, Yemen’s communication minister, who was on the government plane, told Associated Press that he heard two explosions and suggested they were drone attacks.

“It would have been a disaster if the plane was bombed,” he said, insisting the plane had been the target of the attack as it was supposed to have landed earlier.

The cabinet members, including the prime minister, Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, and the Saudi ambassador, Mohammed Said al-Jaber, were transferred safely to the interim capital’s presidential palace, Saudi media reported.

It was not immediately clear which of Yemen’s warring parties, among them al-Qaida, was responsible for the attack.

Last year, Houthi rebels fired missiles on a military parade in Aden, killing dozens of people, in an attack that inflamed 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 from Saudi Arabia, where the plane was flying in from on Wednesday.

The information minister, Moammer al-Eryani, claimed, in a post on Twitter, that the Houthis were behind Wednesday’s attack, while Saeed 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 which is pitting the Iran-backed Houthis against a coalition of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The conflict has killed an estimated 112,000 people and led to widespread hunger and outbreaks of disease, creating what the UN terms the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

The fighting took on a new dimension in 2017 after the formation of the STC, which is supported by the United Arab Emirates despite the objections of coalition partners in Riyadh.

Fighting between the government and the STC for control of south Yemen has plunged Aden in particular into unpredictable bouts of violence and complicated UN efforts with the overall peace process.

The new power-sharing cabinet was announced in December after more than a year of Saudi-mediated negotiations.


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