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Drone attack in Abu Dhabi kills 3, wounds 6

A drone attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels targeting a key oil facility in Abu Dhabi killed three people and sparked a separate fire at Abu Dhabi's international airport on Monday, police said.

Industrial area, airport hit in attack

Men stand outside a storage facility of oil giant ADNOC in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, on Monday. Three people were killed in a suspected drone attack that set off a blast and a fire in Abu Dhabi, officials said, as Yemen's rebels announced military operations in the United Arab Emirates. (AFP/Getty Images)

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.

Police in the United Arab Emirates identified the dead as two Indian nationals and one Pakistani. It did not identify the wounded, who police said suffered minor to moderate injuries at an industrial area where Abu Dhabi's state-owned energy company runs a pipeline network and an oil tanker storage facility.

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

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 United Arab Emirates' 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 said.

In a satellite photo by Planet Labs PBC, Abu Dhabi International Airport is seen Dec. 8, 2021. The drone attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels sparked a fire at the airport on Monday, police said. (Planet Labs PBC via The Associated Press)

Claim of responsibility

Police said that while an investigation was underway, preliminary findings indicated 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 "sensitive Emirati facilities." In a news conference late Monday, military spokesman Yehia Sarea said, without offering evidence, that the Houthis targeted the airports of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as an oil refinery and other sites in the UAE with ballistic missiles and explosive-laden drones.

Although the UAE has largely withdrawn its own forces from Yemen, it is still actively engaged in the conflict and supports Yemeni militias fighting the Houthis.

The incident comes as Yemen's years-long war rages on and as an Emirati-flagged vessel was recently captured by the Houthis. Yemeni government forces, allied and backed by the UAE, have pushed back the rebels in key provinces. Aided by the Emirati-backed Giants Brigades, the government forces took back the province of Shabwa earlier this month in a blow to Houthi efforts to complete their control of the entire northern half of Yemen.

Condemnations of the attack on the UAE poured in from across the world.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States would work with the UAE and international partners to hold the Houthis accountable, saying "we stand beside our Emirati partners against all threats to their territory."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denounced the assault as "prohibited by international law" and urged all sides "to prevent any escalation amid heightened tensions in the region," said spokesman Stephane Dujarric. The UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg was headed to Riyadh for meetings with Saudi and Yemeni officials on "the recent military uptick" in Yemen, Dujarric added.

Saudi Arabia and a host of other Arab states decried the assault as "a cowardly terrorist attack." The kingdom, as well as the U.S., UN experts and others have accused Iran of supplying arms to the Houthis.

Years-long war

The UAE has been at war in Yemen since early 2015, and was a key member of the Saudi-led coalition that launched attacks against the Houthis after the group overran the capital of Yemen and ousted the internationally backed government from power.

The Houthis have come under pressure in recent weeks and are suffering heavy losses as Yemeni forces, allied and backed by the UAE, have pushed back the rebels in key southern and central provinces of the country, 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.

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.

'Short disruption'

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 kilometres from the centre 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.

The location of the ADNOC facility where the tankers caught fire is approximately 1,800 kilometres northeast of Saada, the Houthis' stronghold in Yemen.

While Emirati troops have been killed in the war in Yemen, the conflict so far 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 sky scrapers and five-star hotels.

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