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Three killed in UAE capital in suspected drone attack claimed by Yemen rebels

The Abu Dhabi coastline in 2018. (Christopher Pike/Bloomberg News)

Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement said Monday it had carried out a military attack on the United Arab Emirates as authorities in Abu Dhabi, the capital, announced suspected drone strikes targeted an industrial area and the airport, killing three people and wounding six others.

The UAE’s state news agency quoted Abu Dhabi police as saying that a Pakistani and two Indians were killed in the incident.

Police in Abu Dhabi said three petroleum tanker trucks exploded in an area close to the city’s port, near storage facilities used by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. Separately, a “minor fire” occurred in a construction area at Abu Dhabi International Airport, the statement said, adding that a preliminary investigation found objects that were possibly drones in the two locations.

Later Monday, the Houthis’ official website claimed airstrikes had hit Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, killing nine and injuring others.

Missiles fall on Saudi Arabia, but war in Yemen can seem like an afterthought

The Houthi rebels are supported by Iran and have frequently carried out drone attacks during Yemen’s years-long civil war, which has pitted them against an array of local factions, including the country’s Saudi Arabian-backed government.

The Houthis have also claimed responsibility for missile and drone attacks beyond Yemen’s border, mostly targeting areas in Saudi Arabia but also the UAE — claims that were previously denied by the Emirati authorities.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan condemned the Houthi attack in a statement.

“The Houthis have claimed responsibility for this attack, and we will work with the UAE and international partners to hold them accountable,” he said. “Our commitment to the security of the UAE is unwavering and we stand beside our Emirati partners against all threats to their territory.”

Anwar Gargash, a senior Emirati diplomat, condemned what he called the “sinful Houthi attack” in a message Monday on Twitter, in a rare Emirati acknowledgment of a Houthi attack on the country.

Three people were killed on Jan. 17 after suspected drone strikes targeted an industrial area and airport in Abu Dhabi. (Video: Reuters)

In September 2019, drone strikes claimed by the Houthis badly damaged Saudi oil facilities, knocking out half the kingdom’s output for days. A Saudi-led military coalition said Monday that it had intercepted several drones launched toward Saudi Arabia after the attacks on the UAE.

The attacks Monday — carried out nearly 800 miles from Houthi-controlled territory — were the latest sign of the ways in which the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people since it began seven years ago and sparked one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, continues to destabilize the Persian Gulf region. It also showed the Houthis’ increasing mastery of armed drones, believed to be supplied by Iran.

Yemen’s conflict started in 2014 after the Houthis captured the capital and ousted the government, and violence worsened after the Saudi-led coalition, which included the UAE, intervened in the fighting. The war has taken on elements of a proxy battle between Tehran and its adversaries in the gulf, reflecting long-running geopolitical and sectarian tensions between Iran, a Shiite Muslim theocracy, and the Sunni Muslim monarchies to its west. In the past few months, though, Iran has tried to mend relations with regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, raising questions about whether it approved of Monday’s attack.

Nasraddin Amer, the deputy minister of information in Houthi-controlled Sanaa, confirmed that the rebel forces had carried out an attack and said it was launched in response to the “UAE’s escalation” in Shabwa and Marib, two contested provinces in Yemen. The UAE has backed anti-Houthi factions in the war.

For the past year, fighting has been largely focused in Yemen’s central Marib province, home to key oil and gas infrastructure that is controlled by the internationally recognized government. The Houthi advance on Marib has caused a displacement crisis and hampered international efforts to put an end to the war.

More recently, fighting has picked up in nearby Shabwa province. Last week, the Giants Brigade, a Yemeni force backed by the UAE, reportedly announced that it had wrested control of Shabwa from the Houthis.

The attack amounts to a “signal,” or a “negotiating statement,” from the Houthis, said Abdulghani al-Iryani, a senior researcher at the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.

How the Emiratis react will determine whether it results in a major escalation in the war, he said. But there was little doubt, he added, that the Emirati response will include “fierce airstrikes in Sanaa.”

“That is for public consumption,” he said, referring to the possible retaliatory airstrikes. “The real response is what they will do with the forces” the UAE backs in Yemen, he said.

Fahim reported from Istanbul and O’Grady from Cairo. Ali Al-Mujahed in Sanaa contributed to this report.

Read more:

Yemen’s seven-year civil war could turn on fierce fighting in remote Marib province

Why Iran is getting the blame for an attack on Saudi Arabia claimed by Yemen’s Houthis

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