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A drone attack in Abu Dhabi claimed by rebels in Yemen has killed three people

Emirates passenger planes are parked at their gates at Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates.
Kamran Jebreili
/
AP
Emirates passenger planes are parked at their gates at Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates.

Updated January 17, 2022 at 12:01 PM ET

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A drone attack claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels targeting a key oil facility in Abu Dhabi killed three people on Monday and sparked a fire at Abu Dhabi's international airport.

Emirati police identified the dead as two Indian nationals and one Pakistani. Several people were also wounded at an industrial area where Abu Dhabi's state-owned energy company runs a pipeline network and an oil tanker storage facility. The police said they suffered minor to moderate injuries.

Senior Emirati diplomat Anwar Gargash blamed the Houthis for the attack, saying on Twitter that Emirati authorities were handling the rebel group's "vicious attack on some civilian facilities" in the UAE's capital with "transparency and responsibility."

"The tampering of the region's security by terrorist militias is too weak to affect the stability and safety in which we live," he tweeted.

Three transport tankers caught fire at the oil facility, while another fire was sparked at an extension of Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Police said an investigation was underway and that preliminary findings indicate there were small flying objects, possibly belonging to drones, that fell in the two areas and may have caused the explosion and fire. They said there was no significant damage from the incidents, without offering further details.

Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels claimed they were behind an attack targeting the United Arab Emirates on Monday, but they did not offer details. Although the UAE has largely withdrawn its own forces from the war in Yemen, it is still actively engaged in the conflict and supports Yemeni militias fighting the Houthis.

The incident comes as the Houthis face pressure and are suffering heavy losses. Yemeni forces, allied and backed by the UAE, have pushed back the rebels in key southern and central provinces, dashing Houthi efforts to complete their control of the entire northern half of Yemen.

Yemen's government-aligned forces reclaimed the entire southern province of Shabwa from the Houthis earlier this month and made advances in nearby Marib province. They were aided by the UAE-backed Giants Brigades and had help from Saudi airstrikes.

Saudi Arabia condemned Monday's attack targeting Abu Dhabi, describing it as "a cowardly terrorist attack" that shows the dangers posed by the Houthis. Saudi Arabia, as well as the United States, U.N. experts and others have accused Iran of supplying arms to the Houthis.

The UAE was a key member of the Saudi-led coalition that has waged war against the Houthis since 2015, trying to restore the internationally backed government, ousted by the rebels the previous year.

While Emirati troops have been killed over the course of the conflict, now in its eight year, the war has not directly affected daily life in the wider UAE, a country with a vast foreign workforce that is also home to Dubai, a glitzy city of skyscrapers and five-star hotels.

The airport fire in Abu Dhabi was described by police as "minor" and took place at an extension of the international airport that is still under construction. For years, the airport home to Etihad Airways has been building its new Midfield Terminal, but it was not clear if that was where the fire took place.

Etihad Airways said "precautionary measures resulted in a short disruption for a small number of flights" and that airport operations have returned to normal. Abu Dhabi Airports did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The other blast struck three petroleum transport tankers near a complex for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. in the Musaffah industrial area. The company describes it as a pipeline and terminal facility located some 22 kilometers (13 miles) from the center of the city of Abu Dhabi, where 36 storage tanks also supply transport trucks carrying fuel.

It is also a short distance from Al-Dhafra Air Base, a military installation that hosts U.S. and French forces. U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Andrew Clark, the Al-Dhafra Air Base commander for American forces, said in a statement to The Associated Press that "no incidents" affected the base amid the attack.

"U.S. forces are ready and available to assist and support their Emirati partners if requested," he said.

The location of the ADNOC facility where the tankers caught fire is approximately 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) northeast of Saada, the Houthis' stronghold in Yemen.

The incident comes as South Korea's President Moon Jae-in is visiting the UAE. During a meeting with Emirati Prime Minister and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on Sunday, the two countries reportedly reached a preliminary deal valued at some $3.5 billion sell mid-range South Korean surface-to-air missiles to the UAE.

At an event attended by the South Korean president earlier in the day, Emirati Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei declined to comment on the explosion at ADNOC's facility, telling the AP only that police would provide updates on their investigation.

The Houthis have used bomb-laden drones to launch crude and imprecise attacks aimed at Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The group has also launched missiles at Saudi airports, oil facilities and pipelines, and used booby-trapped boats for attacks in key shipping routes.

Earlier this month, the Houthis seized an Emirati-flagged ship in the Red Sea, a crucial route for international trade and energy shipments.

Though there have been civilian deaths in Saudi Arabia from Houthi attacks, there had been no deaths previously reported in the UAE.

The overwhelming number of civilian deaths in the conflict have been in Yemen. The war has killed 130,000 people in Yemen — both civilians and fighters — and has exacerbated hunger and famine across the impoverished country.

Torbjorn Soltvedt, an analyst at the risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft, noted that while the Houthis have claimed responsibility for an attack on the UAE, Iraqi-based militias have also threatened the UAE in response to alleged Emirati interference in Iraqi politics.

He said the attack highlights the missile and drone threat faced by the UAE and the region's other main oil producers. He said unless Gulf Arab states find a solution to diffuse wider regional tensions "they will remain vulnerable to attacks."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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