Suicide bombing sparks battle for Yemen's security headquarters

Masked militants set off a large car bomb outside a security headquarters in Yemen's southern port city of Aden early Sunday, as a Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes on the rebel-held city of Sanaa.

Airstrikes by Saudi-backed coalition puts civilians in line of fire in Sanaa

A Houthi rebel fighter talks on the phone as he walks at the site of a Saudi airstrike on a parade square in Sanaa, Yemen. Houthi rebels wrested control of Sanaa in 2015. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

Masked militants set off a large car bomb outside a security headquarters in Yemen's southern port city of Aden early Sunday, killing at least 17 people before storming the compound, officials said, sparking combat that continued well into the night.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, the security officials said the militants placed snipers on the roof and gunned down most of the security forces inside. The officials gave conflicting accounts of what happened next inside the building. They initially said that the militants had taken an unknown number of people hostage. Later they said that they opened cell gates and released prisoners.

Security forces backed by an Apache helicopter continued to fight for control of the installation after nightfall, chasing down militants in the surrounding structures and neighbourhood. Some hostages were killed, they added, without providing specific figures. They said at least five soldiers were among the dead.

People look at a van damaged by a Saudi airstrike in Sanaa. Saudi-led forces have been fighting Shia Houthis, who are backed by Iran, for the past two years, resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

Witnesses said at least four militant snipers could be seen on the roof of the compound. They also described mayhem as dead bodies littering the compound's front courtyard couldn't be retrieved because of the continuous sniper fire. Shallal al-Shayae, the security chief, was not inside the compound at the time of the attack, the officials said.

In an online statement, the local affiliate of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they killed 50 soldiers and identifying the bomber as Abu Othman al-Hadrami.

Saudis launch airstrikes at Yemen

 A Saudi-led coalition meanwhile launched a wave of airstrikes — starting overnight and continuing until noon the next day — on the rebel-held capital, Sanaa, apparently in response to a ballistic missile fired by the rebels toward an international airport on the outskirts of Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Saudi Arabia said it shot down the missile before it hit its target, with fragments landing in an uninhabited area north of the capital.

Saudi Arabia announced financial rewards for information leading to the arrest of 40 leaders it said were responsible for "planning, implementing and supporting the Houthi terrorist group's various terrorist activities." The bounties topped out at $30 million US for the armed group's leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, the state news agency reported.

U.S. President Donald Trump was quick to blame Iran. "A shot was just taken by Iran, in my opinion, at Saudi Arabia. And our system knocked it down," Trump said, referring to the Patriot missile batteries Saudi Arabia purchased from the U.S.

Iran's Defence Minister Gen. Amir Hatami has denied his country was involved in the incident. "Does anyone ask the United States what are you giving to Saudi Arabia?" he was quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said the missiles launched from Yemen into Saudi Arabia were made in Yemen, not Iran, as U.S. President speculated on Sunday. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard commander Mohammad Ali Jafari also said that Iran can't transfer rockets to Yemen and stressed that the missiles were made there. He described Trump's comments as "lies."

Yemen is embroiled in a war between Iran-backed Shia rebels, known as Houthis, and the internationally recognized government, which is allied with a Saudi-led military coalition. The government has been based in Saudi Arabia since the Houthis overran the capital Sanaa in 2014. Government forces ostensibly control Aden, but the city remains volatile.

The Houthis said in a statement that the missile was launched in response to bombings that have killed civilians. The Houthis have fired a number of missiles across the border in recent years, but this appeared to be the deepest strike yet within Saudi territory. Riyadh is 1,000 kilometres north of the border with Yemen.

Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen have killed and wounded thousands of civilians, hitting houses, busy markets, hospitals and schools in what rights groups have said amounts to war crimes. Houthi artillery has also killed a large number of civilians. The war has claimed more than 10,000 lives and driven the Arab world's poorest country to the brink of famine.

With files from Reuters