Houthi rebels used an explosive-packed drone to target Yemen’s military leaders at an army parade on Thursday, killing six soldiers and wounding several senior officers.
The Iranian-backed rebels detonated the drone above a ceremonial dais, spraying Yemeni officers with shrapnel and causing the ceremony to dissolve into chaos.
The attack showed a surprising level of sophistication for the Houthi rebels and is likely to further undermine UN efforts to broker a peace deal to end the Yemen’s brutal four-year war.
Video of the attack showed the drone screeching down from the cloudy sky and exploding a few metres above the dais where Yemeni officers were watching the military parade. Six soldiers were killed in the blast.
Ahmed al-Turki, governor of Lahj province, was wounded in the attack along with several senior military and intelligence officers. General Abdullah al-Nakhi, the army chief of staff, was at the parade but appears to have escaped unarmed.
If this can be verified (looking like it is the location attacked) this will be the first time I've seen an Ababil T (a.k.a a Qaesf 1) detonate.
Looks like it explodes in mid-air above the dias while it's full of senior officer, which makes it look like a well planned attack. pic.twitter.com/oyRiUUVIx8
— Nick Waters (@N_Waters89) January 10, 2019
The attack took place near the al-Anad airbase outside Aden, deep inside government held territory in southern Yemen.
Nick Waters, an analyst with Bellingcat investigative website, said the Houthi drone appeared to be based on an Iranian Ababil T drone. It was not clear if the drone was supplied by Iran or constructed by the Houthis based on an Iranian design.
“This appears to have been a well-planned and well-executed attack,” Mr Waters said. “They were targeting the high-value individuals on that dais and they hit the dais, not the parade area around it.”
The drone was likely launched from hundreds of miles away in Houthi-controlled territory and brought down on top of its target using GPS coordinates, rather than being steered by an operator.
The Houthis’ success in bringing the drone down in the middle of the military parade suggests they had specific intelligence about the timings and locations of the ceremony, Mr Waters said.
The rebel group has previously attempted similar drone attacks against Saudi radar stations used to launch Patriot missiles.
Moammar al-Eryani, Yemen’s information minister, said the attack was evidence that the Houthis were not serious about making a peace agreement.
"Once again this proves that the Houthi criminal militias are not ready for peace and that they are exploiting truces in order for deployment and reinforcements,” he said.
The UN brokered a ceasefire around the key port of Hodeidah in December. The ceasefire has largely held, despite infractions by both sides.
However, Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy for Yemen, warned this week that “substantial progress” was need before full-blown negotiations could be launched on ending the civil war.
"Both sides have largely adhered to the ceasefire and there has been a significant decrease in hostilities,” Mr Griffiths told the UN Security Council on Wednesday.
A new meeting is to be held in the Jordanian capital Amman next week to follow up on a huge prisoner swap agreed by the warring parties last month.
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