Saudi air defences intercept five Houthi drones and ballistic missile over Riyadh

Ballistic missile was destroyed in the second foiled rebel attack on the kingdom on Saturday

Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki speaks during a news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
Powered by automated translation

A missile launched at Saudi Arabia's capital by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels was intercepted on Saturday night.

The Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen's government said the ballistic missile was destroyed before it could threaten Riyadh.

The coalition said it also destroyed five explosive-laden drones launched from Houthi territory.

One was sent towards the port town of Jazan, close to the border with Yemen, and three were headed towards Khamis Mushait, about 234 kilometres north of Jazan, state television reported.

Another drone was intercepted on Sunday morning, coalition spokesman Brig Gen Turki Al Malki said.

"These acts of aggression to deliberately and systematically target civilians and civilian objects by the terrorist Houthi militia amount to war crimes," he said

The US embassy in Riyadh issued a warning to Americans, calling on them to “stay alert in case of additional future attacks”.

Flight-tracking websites showed several flights scheduled to land at the international airport in Riyadh were diverted or delayed in the hour after the attack.

The assault came as Saudi Arabia hosts a Formula E Championship event on the outskirts of Riyadh.

State-owned Al Ekhbariya television tweeted a video showing what it said was the moment the missile was intercepted.

Video of the incident appears to show a missile – possibly a Patriot interceptor – striking a Houthi missile.

The latest PAC-3 variant of the Patriot can travel up to four times the speed of sound, which is about 5,000 kilometres per hour.

While it has not yet been confirmed that this was the variant used, the interception unleashed a huge amount of energy and white-hot debris is visible.

Fragments of the missile scattered over several Riyadh neighbourhoods, damaging at least one home but no casualties were reported, Al Ekhbariya television said.

The rebels have increased their attacks in recent weeks despite heightened international efforts to end Yemen's six-year civil war.

On Friday, the coalition reported intercepting and destroying two Houthi drones and a ballistic missile launched at the kingdom.

The UAE condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, saying they showed the regional risk posed by the rebels and provide "new evidence of these militias' attempts to undermine security and stability in the region".

"The security of the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are indivisible, and any threat facing the Kingdom is considered by the Emirates a threat to its security and stability," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia's neighbours Bahrain and Kuwait also condemned the attacks, with Kuwait renewing its call to the UN Security Council to curb the escalation of Houthi military actions.

The GCC Secretary General Nayraf Al Hajraf said the continued "terrorist attacks" by the Houthis was a blatant challenge to the international community.

The Houthis on Sunday claimed responsibility for the attacks and threatened to launch more.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the attacks "put innocent lives at risk, and show that those responsible are not serious about peace, let alone protecting the Yemeni people".

The Houthis have escalated cross-border attacks on the kingdom even after the US delisted the rebels as terrorists, reversing a decision by the administration of former president Donald Trump.

President Joe Biden also halted US support for offensive operations against the rebels in Yemen's war, which he called a "catastrophe" that has to end, while reiterating US support for Saudi Arabia in defending its territory.