20 dead, dozens injured in Aden airport attack

Cabinet members - whose plane just landed - not hurt

Blasts and gunfire were heard at Aden airport yesterday, shortly after a plane carrying a newly formed Cabinet for government-held parts of Yemen arrived from Saudi Arabia. A local security source said three mortar shells landed on the airport's hall
Blasts and gunfire were heard at Aden airport yesterday, shortly after a plane carrying a newly formed Cabinet for government-held parts of Yemen arrived from Saudi Arabia. A local security source said three mortar shells landed on the airport's hall. PHOTO: REUTERS

ADEN (Yemen) • At least 20 people were killed and dozens more wounded in an attack on Aden airport yesterday, a security source said, shortly after a plane carrying a newly formed Cabinet for government-held parts of Yemen arrived from Saudi Arabia.

Loud blasts and gunfire were heard at the airport shortly after the plane arrived, witnesses said.

The Cabinet members, including Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, as well as Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Said Al-Jaber, were transferred safely to the city's presidential palace, the witnesses and Saudi media said.

"We and the members of the government are in the temporary capital of Aden and everyone is fine," Mr Maeen tweeted from Maasheq palace.

"The cowardly terrorist act that targeted Aden airport is part of the war that is being waged against the Yemeni state and its great people."

Mr Al-Jaber tweeted: "Peace, security and stability will prevail thanks to Yemenis' strong will and their brave government."

Minister of Information Moammar Al-Eryani, also on Twitter, blamed Iran-backed Houthi rebels who have been fighting the government since 2014.

No one claimed responsibility.

A local security source said three mortar shells had landed on the airport's hall.

The newly formed Cabinet unites the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi with southern separatists.

The two groups are the main Yemeni factions in a southern-based, Saudi-backed alliance, fighting against the Houthi movement that controls the north, including the capital, Sanaa.

Live television footage from Saudi-owned Al Arabiya channel showed dozens of people leaving the airplane when a first blast hit the airport's hall. Heavy gunfire from armoured vehicles followed, with plumes of white and black smoke rising from the scene.

Other video footage showed smashed glass and damage to the terminal's concrete walls.

The southern port city of Aden has been mired in violence because of a rift between the separatists and Mr Hadi's government, based there after being driven from the capital by the Houthis in 2014.

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

The Saudi-led coalition announced earlier this month the new power-sharing Cabinet that would include the separatists.

The new government will have to address urgent issues like the devaluation of the riyal, providing basic services and implementing the security and military parts of the November 2019 power-sharing agreement.

The Cabinet travelled from Riyadh, where both parties negotiated for more than a year with Saudi mediation.

UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths condemned the attack in a statement: "I wish the Cabinet strength in facing the difficult tasks ahead. This unacceptable act of violence is a tragic reminder of the importance of bringing Yemen urgently back on the path towards peace."

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2020, with the headline '20 dead, dozens injured in Aden airport attack'. Subscribe