Men in uniforms and with flags have gathered on the apron at Aden Airport. They are waiting for a plane operated by the state airline Yemenia. The prime minister and most of the members of the new unity cabinet are on board on their way back to Yemen. They had previously taken their oath of office in front of President Abd Rabbo Masur Hadi in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
The ministers are just descending the gangway when a heavy explosion echoes over the airfield in the port city on the Red Sea. Thick smoke penetrates the airport building. Then fire from automatic weapons follows. People run away in a panic. Pictures show corpses and injuries on the ground, burned-out cars, shards and rubble from the waiting room.
At least 30 dead will be recovered by Wednesday evening, many of them civilians. You had been waiting for the next flight, said informants in Yemen Süddeutsche Zeitung. More than 60 other people were injured, some of them life-threatening. The number of victims could increase even further given the rudimentary medical care and the severity of the injuries.
The government accuses the Houthis of rejecting it
The members of the government and the Saudi ambassador, Mohammed Said al-Jaber, who was also on board the plane, were brought to safety in the heavily guarded presidential palace al-Mashiq. “We and the members of the government are in the temporary capital, Aden, and we are fine,” wrote Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik on the short message service Twitter.
The information turned out to be incorrect: Yemeni media reported in the evening that a deputy minister was killed and two others injured. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that two of its employees had been killed and a third was missing. Prime Minister Abdulmalik stressed that the cowardly act of terrorism would only strengthen the government’s resolve and was part of the war against the Yemeni state.
There was different information about the course of the attack. From security circles in Aden it was said that several mortar shells had been fired at the airport. Communications minister Naguib al-Awg said he had heard two explosions and suspected a drone attack. Video footage suggests multiple projectiles hit the airfield, possibly missiles. The violence of the first explosion could also have been caused by a previously placed explosive device.
President Hadi, like Information Minister Muammar al-Eryanidie, accused the Houthi militias of being responsible for the attack. They drove Hadi out of the capital Sanaa in 2014 and later completely out of the country. This began the civil war, which continues to this day, in which a military coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia intervened on the side of Hadi and fought against the Houthis supported by Iran.
The Houthis denied responsibility for the attack. They had shown what they are capable of with a missile attack on a military parade in Aden. But there are also strong offshoots of the al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Islamic State (IS) jihadist militia in Yemen, as well as a number of other armed groups that are not well-disposed towards the new government, including militias allied with the Emirates. Nobody had confessed to the attack by late evening.
The new government does not include the Houthis, who control Sanaa and the north of the country, where most of the approximately 30 million Yemenis live. The cabinet is part of an agreement brokered by Saudi Arabia in November 2019 to resolve the conflict between President Hadi’s camp and the al-Hirak separatist movement, which is strong in the south.
Al-Hirak had temporarily taken military control of Aden and large parts of the south and, with the support of the United Arab Emirates, fought for a renewed separation from the north; Yemen was only reunified in 1990. Hadi had appointed many representatives from the north and the south into the cabinet and also involved the Islah party, which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood. In recent weeks, demonstrators have called for the government to return to the country, which they blame for the economic crisis and the devaluation of the currency.