'I felt I would die': our Yemen correspondent describes horror at Aden airport

The National’s Ali Mahmood recounts the trauma of the attack in which he was injured and lost a colleague among the dozens killed

I was among 10 or so colleagues from media outlets covering the arrival from Riyadh of Yemen’s new unity government at Aden International Airport.

We snapped photos of the aircraft taxiing and were waiting for the new ministers to make their way down the staircase from the aircraft when an explosion ripped through the arrival hall.

I was near the plane and saw more than three bodies sprawled on the tarmac. Other people were screaming, including a woman journalist who fainted as she struggled to run from the blast.

After what seemed like a minute, a rocket hit a small area between the terminal and the runway.

The blast was enormous and there was a huge flame. I found myself rolling on the ground with shrapnel in my back and the left side of my body. I had blood on my neck and my back.

I felt extremely devastated and helpless. Plumes of smoke and thick dust left me struggling to even breathe. And then the gunfire began.

Soldiers kept shooting in different directions. I crawled to a car that had come to collect the ministers. I felt I would die because the bullets penetrated the car, which I was using to shield myself and my head.

After a third blast, I started to scream for help.

Four of us were rescued by Sudanese soldiers from the Saudi-led Arab coalition, which is fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels on behalf of the internationally recognised government. Three of the tyres on their vehicle were flat, shot out by the gunfire. When I was in the soldiers’ car, I remember seeing two ministers on foot, running to escape. They were heading towards the headquarters where Saudi forces were stationed in the airport’s military section.

The soldiers took me to their base and performed first aid on my wounds to stop the bleeding. They handed me over to a medic and later to a hospital where a doctor performed a CT scan and ultrasound. My left kidney was hurt in the attack.

The attacks on Wednesday killed more than 26 people, including a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Yemeni government and the coalition blamed the Iran-backed Houthis, who have yet to claim responsibility.

That day I lost a colleague, Adeeb Al Jinani, with whom I shared a room when we covered the battle between government forces and the Houthis in Hodeidah province.

Another of my colleagues, Sadiq Al Rutaibi, lost a leg. Sadiq was chatting with me minutes before the attack.

I am haunted by the images and sounds of the explosions and still feel devastated.

As told to Nada AlTaher

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