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Houthi forces escalate drone attacks on Abha airport in Saudi Arabia

Houthi rebels in Yemen attacked Abha International Airport in the southern Saudi province of ‘Asir on June 14, the second time in a week the regional airport came under aerial attack.  According to Saudi-sourced press reports while the most recent drone attacks have been intercepted the Houthis hit the airport’s arrival hall with a cruise missile, injuring at least 26 civilians, in the earlier attack.

Over the last year Abha airport – which is close to the military base of military Khamis Mushaithas seen repeated drone attacks (see box) which have recently escalated in intensity.

Press reports from Saudi Arabia say the Houthi rebels employed the Qasef-2k drone in the attacks – an upgraded variant of the Qasef-1 UAV, which is a copy of the Iranian Ababil-2 and is armed with a heavy high-explosive fragmentation warhead that explodes 20m over the target.

The Saudi-led coalition said the attack last week was unsuccessful and the Royal Saudi Air Defense Force (RSADF) and the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) shot down five Houthi UAVs over the Kingdom’s southern region. “Air traffic and the airspace at Abha International Airport are as usual, there is no delay in flights or in passenger traffic,” a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Col. Turki al-Malki, said in an official statement.

The Houthi drone strikes are reported to be in retaliation for Saudi-led coalition air strikes against Houthi communities in Yemen which, according to the UN Human Rights Office, had resulted in 10,852 deaths up to November 2018.

“A report issued by the Center for Armed Conflict Research in London explained that Iran’s military technology had reached the Houthi militias by helping them use the drones they had previously said were homemade and which were smuggled to the Houthis with other weapons including ballistic missiles,” according to the Institute for Counter Terrorism, based in Israel ( https://www.ict.org.il/AboutUs.aspx#gsc.tab=0). “The Houthis said in 2017 that they had manufactured four types of drones domestically; one of them is the Qasef-1. The Houthis could have outfitted them with explosives or used them for surveillance.”

Saudi Arabia is not the only military coalition partner to experience Houthi drone attacks; in July 2018, a drone exploded at Abu Dhabi airport, causing minor damage.

Recent drone attacks on Saudi Airports

  • 14 June 2019 Saudi forces report they have intercepted five drones launched by Iran-aligned Yemeni rebels at Abha airport. Yemen’s Houthi movement via Al-Masirah TV report that it had launched multiple drone attacks on Jizan and Abha airports and that the installations were out of service.
  • 9 June 2019 Yemen’s Houthi rebels report they attacked military targets at Jizan airport in Saudi Arabia
  • 26 May 2018 The Saudi-led Arab Coalition report it had foiled an attempted drone attack on Abha
  • 11 April 2018  Abha Airport and Aramco facility attacked by Houthi drones

(Image: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)The FCO advises against all travel to within 10km of the border with Yemen and against all but essential travel between 10km and 80km of this border)

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