2020 Aden attacks
|2020 Aden attacks|
|Part of the Yemeni Civil War (2014–present)|
|Location||Aden, Aden Governorate, Yemen|
|Date||30 December 2020|
|Target||Aden International Airport|
Mortar attack (suspected)
Drone strike (suspected)
On 30 December 2020, a plane carrying members of the recently formed Yemeni government landed at Aden International Airport in the southwest of Yemen. As passengers disembarked, there were explosions and gunfire, leaving 28 people dead and 107 others injured.
None of the passengers were hurt in the attack and the Yemeni cabinet members were quickly transported to Mashiq Palace for safety. Later, an attack also occurred near the palace, though it was reported that the palace itself was a target of a drone attack.
In order to deal with the infighting between the Yemeni government forces and those of the secessionist Southern Transitional Council, a new cabinet was formed with the backing of neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The formation of the new unity government, which includes equal numbers of representatives from each region of Yemen's northern and southern areas, was the result of over a year's worth of intense negotiations mediated by the Saudis, and was meant to end the infighting so that the two sides could fight together against the Houthi rebels in the ongoing civil war.
Although the Yemeni government had been based in the temporary capital city of Aden after the Houthi rebels took control of the capital city Sanaa, its recent operations had usually been conducted while in exile in Saudi Arabia, since the Southern Transitional Council had seized Aden over a year earlier and forced the government out.
After the new 24-member cabinet was announced earlier in December, the new unity government, led by Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, was sworn in by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi on 26 December 2020 in Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh.
The newly formed and internationally recognized government had planned to televise its return from Saudi Arabia to Yemen, to signal to its citizens that their worries were going to be addressed. The event was also meant to mark the successful result of the lengthy negotiations.
On 30 December 2020, a Yemenia plane flew from Saudi Arabia to the port city of Aden in southwestern Yemen, carrying members of the newly formed Yemeni government, including the prime minister, as well as the Saudi ambassador to Yemen.[b] The airport hall was crowded with local officials as well as civilians hoping to greet the members of the new cabinet. Hundreds of people had gathered on the airport apron outside.
As the passengers disembarked, massive explosions were heard.[c] A local security source had reported that "three mortar shells had landed on the airport's hall", while Yemeni Communication Minister Naguib al-Awg, who was among those flown in, has suggested they were drone strikes, and a spokesperson for the chairman of the Southern Transitional Council believed they were missiles. The Telegraph has reported that analysis of the explosion footage showed one explosion occurring on the north side of the airport terminal, and the second occurring around 30 seconds later about 20 metres (70 ft) away. One of the wounded recalled that a "missile hit the terminal's gate" while he was metres away.
The explosions sent the crowd of hundreds scrambling for cover, with the disembarking ministers either running back up into the plane or down the stairs to find shelter. Gunfire then erupted from armoured vehicles. Bodies lying on the airport apron and elsewhere at the airport were seen after the attack as thick plumes of black and white smoke emanated from the airport terminal.
Most of the casualties were reportedly civilians—including airport staff—with Voice of America reporting that most of the casualties had reportedly occurred within the terminal.[d] However, all passengers that were aboard the plane remained unharmed. The cabinet members, as well as the Saudi ambassador, were quickly taken to Mashiq Palace, the presidential palace in Aden, for safety.
Another blast was heard about four hours later around Mashiq Palace. No casualties as a result of the later explosion were reported. Saudi-owned news channel Al Arabiya reported that an "explosive-laden drone" had been intercepted and destroyed nearby.
At least 28 people were killed and 107 others were injured, with at least 30 wounded seriously enough to require major surgery. The casualties included aid workers as well as government officials. Three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross were killed, including two Yemenis and one Rwandan; three others were wounded, with one seriously so. Officials also reported that a deputy minister of public works had been killed, while it was also reported that a deputy minister of youth and sport as well as a deputy transport minister were amongst those injured.[e] Also among the dead was a reporter of Belqees, a Yemeni television news channel, who was reporting live from the airport when his connection went silent. Yemeni information minister Moammer al-Iryani also reported that at least ten other journalists had also been wounded.
Yemen's Foreign Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak initially blamed the Houthis for the attack, and stated that four ballistic missiles had been fired at the airport, but made the statement without providing evidence. The Houthis denied responsibility, with its deputy information secretary placing the blame on the continued infighting between the government and the Southern Transitional Council, and naming the latter as the party most likely to have carried out the attack.
The Southern Transitional Council also blamed the Houthis, as well as Qatar and Turkey. Western[clarification needed] officials stated that it was likely the work of Houthi rebels, but had not ruled out al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or dissatisfied southern separatist factions.[f]
Communication Minister Naguib al-Awg insisted that the plane had been the original target of the attacks, as the plane had landed later than previously planned. Deputy Information Minister Oussama Sharem stated that civilians heading to Cairo that were waiting inside had been targeted.
Early the next day, a Saudi-led coalition conducted air strikes on Sanaa, the Houthi-held capital, apparently in retaliation for the previous day's attacks, which it had blamed on the Houthis. Warplanes carried out attacks over several hours, striking the airport as well as other areas of the city. Al Jazeera confirmed that there had been more than eight raids, while Houthi-owned television channel Almasirah reported that fifteen different locations had been hit in the city and the surrounding governorate, including sites in Sanhan and Bani Hashish Districts. Casualties had not been reported.
By morning, military checkpoints had been set up throughout Aden, and streets had been manned by security forces. The airport reopened on 3 January 2021 amidst continued reconstruction, with Transport Minister Abdel Salam Hamid having announced the previous day that flights would return to normal.
About a week after the attack on the airport, on 6 January 2021, six civilians were killed and seven wounded during a Houthi shelling in the southwestern governorate of Taiz. The Houthi offensive continued for at least five days, with a spokesperson for the Yemeni army reporting that, in total, 12 people had been killed, 30 injured, and 50 taken as civilian hostages.
On 7 January 2021, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, visited the airport to review the damage sustained and met with members of the new cabinet. That evening, a loud explosion was heard outside a central prison in Aden. Several cars and a wall were damaged, but no casualties were reported.
On 10 January 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that he intended to designate the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, effective 19 January 2021, referring to the airport attack as an example of the Houthis' terrorist capabilities. Foreign Policy's sources reported that the attack led the administration "on an irreversible track toward the designation", despite the administration understanding that the designation would likely significantly exacerbate the humanitarian disaster in Yemen.
President Hadi has directed Interior Minister Ibrahim Haydan to head a committee to investigate the attack, with support from the military. Prime Minister Saeed later announced that "[p]reliminary results of the investigation ... show that Houthi militants were behind the attack" which was carried out by guided missiles, and that Iranian experts had also been involved. Saeed also stated that there had been three precision-guided missiles, and that they had targeted the plane, the arrivals hall, and the airport lounge. Saeed added that experts would be examining the missile remains that had been collected by investigators to determine their origins.
On 14 January 2021, Al Arabiya reported that, earlier that day, the interior ministry stated that the missiles used were ballistic, that they had been launched from Houthi-controlled territory about 100 km (60 mi) away, and that "Iranian and Lebanese experts were behind the missile launching systems of the rockets" used in the attack. Interior Minister Haydan noted that the "medium-range surface-to-ground ballistic missiles" used "a navigation system that relied on a precise GPS-guided technology". He added that "only the Houthi militia has this system in Yemen". Haydan also noted that the missiles used had serial numbers similar to missiles used in other Houthi attacks that relied on the same technology.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres "condemn[ed] the deplorable attack" on the airport, and offered condolences to the victims' families as well as the Yemeni government and its people, as reported by his special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths. Griffiths also considered the attack "a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law" that "potentially amounts to a war crime".
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit also condemned the attack on the airport, calling it a "cowardly terrorist act". Aboul Gheit also expressed sorrow for the victims and hope that the wounded remained safe.
The European Union strongly condemned the attack and reaffirmed its belief that "there can only be a political solution to the conflict in Yemen", offering condolences to the victims' families and support for those seeking a peaceful resolution.
- The Houthi rebels were accused of the attack, but denied responsibility. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was also suspected.
- President Hadi, who has been living in Riyadh after the Houthi rebels took control of Sanaa, was not aboard.
- There are conflicting reports regarding how many explosions there were, with reports ranging from two to four.
- The Times reported that all casualties had occurred within the terminal.
- It has also been reported that a government official referred to as "deputy minister of housing" or "undersecretary at the labour ministry" has been killed, but it is unclear if this person is the same as the deputy minister of public works. The New York Times, however, stated that it was the deputy transport minister who was reported dead.
- Three weeks before, AQAP militants had been suspected of killing five south Yemen separatists in what was believed to be their most significant attack in the region in months.
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