Missiles that struck Aden's airport in December shortly after the arrival of Yemen's new Cabinet were fired from Houthi-held territory hundreds of kilometres from the scene, analysis by investigative unit Bellingcat shows.
Twenty-six people were killed but the political leaders at the arrival ceremony were unharmed after crowds on the tarmac unwittingly forced the ministerial plane away from the area where the three missiles struck within a minute.
The Houthis denied responsibility for the attack but the researchers used aerial, TV and CCTV footage to examine the impact of the projectiles and determine the firing point.
By analysing the craters, Bellingcat was able to say one set of missiles came from the north-west, then found footage of a second set launching.
Missiles precisely timed
The timing of the attack was also precise. A red carpet was laid out to where passengers were due to descend the aircraft steps.
But photographs of the scene showed the plane parked some distance away when the missiles slammed into and around the terminal building.
The explosions started as people emerged from the aircraft.
The report ruled out the use of drones in the strike but the Houthi forces, who seized the Yemeni capital Sanaa and other territory from the internationally recognised government in 2014, also used air-to-surface weapons.
Ali Mahmood, a correspondent for The National who was injured in the December attack, told of his experience in the deadly strike.
“We took photos of the aircraft taxiing," Mahmood said. "We were waiting for the new ministers to make their way down the staircase from the aircraft when an explosion ripped through the arrival hall.”
Bellingcat said the second explosion was a direct hit on the landing bay where the red carpet was laid out.
“If the plane had parked in this bay, which appears to have been the expectation, it is likely that many members of the Cabinet would have been killed or wounded in the attack,” it said.
Analysis of video and the craters made by the blast suggested two of the missiles were fired from the Houthi-held airport in the city of Taez, about 140 kilometres to the north-west.
Two more were fired from close to a police compound at Dhamar, also held by Houthis, 200km north of Aden.
The investigation showed that one of the missiles from Taez went off course and landed close to a nearby factory.
But the other three found their targets to devastating effect about 1.25pm on December 30. More than 100 people were wounded in the attack.
“The available evidence indicates that, despite its denial, the Houthi movement was likely responsible for this attack,” Bellingcat said.
“This continues a theme of the Houthi movement using effective intelligence and targeting of high-value targets to carry out long-range and accurate strikes.”
Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Saeed said the attack involved three “precision-guided missiles” launched by the Houthis.
“It’s a major terrorist attack that was meant to eliminate the government," Mr Saeed said. “It was a message against peace and stability in Yemen.”
Bellingcat has a string of successes to its name, including the unmasking of the Russians behind the nerve agent attack on former agent Sergey Skripal in Salisbury, England, in 2018.
It also identified the military unit that shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014.
Meanwhile, a fire in a civilian aircraft was brought under control after Wednesday's Houthi drone attack on Abha Airport in south-western Saudi Arabia.
It was the third day this week that the coalition intercepted Houthi drones fired at the southern region of the kingdom, which borders Yemen.