Yemen: Aden airport blasts kill more than 20 as new unity government lands

Twenty-six people were killed and dozens injured, but all Yemeni Cabinet members safe

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Twenty-six people were killed when blasts tore through Aden airport on Wednesday as a plane carrying the country’s new unity government arrived at Yemen's temporary capital.

At least two explosions were heard as Cabinet members were leaving the aircraft for their first meeting.

The attack was condemned by regional and world leaders who called it "cowardly".

"For now we can confirm that 22 people have been killed and between 60 to 70 people were injured in the blasts," Yemen's government spokesman, Rajeh Badi, told The National.

No group claimed responsibility immediately after the attack.

As smoke billowed out of the airport terminal from an initial blast, with debris strewn across the area and people rushing to tend to the wounded, a second explosion took place.

Officials at the scene said they saw bodies lying on the tarmac and elsewhere at the airport.

It is unclear what caused the explosions although footage of the moment appeared to show a projectile hitting an area that had until moments before been crowded with spectators.

Sporadic gunfire was heard soon after.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it was preparing a "mass casualty medical response plan".

Mr Badi and a UN official said the government ministers, including Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, were unharmed.

They were rushed to Mashiq Palace in Aden city after the attack but hours later more explosions were heard near the area.

The Saudi-led Coalition, fighting in Yemen to support the internationally recognised government, said later on Wednesday it intercepted and destroyed a bomb-laden aerial drone launched by the Houthis in an attack on the palace. It said this "confirms the [Houthi] responsibility" behind the airport attack.

It appears that those killed at the airport were mainly civilians and airport staff, Mr Badi said.

The International Committee for the Red Cross said one of its workers was killed and three wounded. Two more were still unaccounted for.

“Our staff were transiting through the airport with other civilians. This is a tragic day for us and the people of Yemen,” the ICRC tweeted.

Yemeni Communications Minister Naguib Al Awg, who was on the plane, told AP he heard two explosions, suggesting they were drone attacks.

“It would have been a disaster if the plane was bombed,” Mr Al Awg said.

He insisted the plane was the target of the attack because it was supposed to land earlier.

Yemen's internationally recognised government and the Southern Transitional Council formed a power-sharing Cabinet on December 18, and arrived in the southern city of Aden just days after being sworn in Saudi Arabia.

Shortly after the airport attack, Mr Saeed said it was part of the war being waged against the Yemeni state.

"This will only push us to fulfil our duties until the coup is over and stability is secured," he tweeted, referring to the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who took over the capital Sanaa.

Yemen’s Information Minister, Muammar Al Eryani, also held the Houthi rebels responsible.

“The cowardly terrorist attack by the Iran-backed Houthi militia on Aden airport will not deter us from our duty and our life is not more valuable than other Yemenis,” Mr Al Eryani tweeted.

“May Allah have mercy on the souls of martyrs and I wish fast recovery for those injured."

Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi said the "forces of good and sincere intentions will triumph over evil".

He ordered the formation of a committee to investigate the attack.

"These acts will not deter the government from continuing its duties," Mr Hadi said.

Foreign Minister Ahmed bin Mubarak said: "God save Aden from evil."

International anger over Aden attack

The UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, condemned the attack.

"I wish the Cabinet strength in facing the difficult tasks ahead," Mr Griffiths said.

"This unacceptable act of violence is a tragic reminder of the importance of bringing Yemen urgently back on the path towards peace."

The UAE and Saudi Arabia strongly condemned the attacks.

Dr Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said the attack on the airport failed to sabotage "the peace project led by Saudi Arabia for the good of Yemen and the region".

The Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al Jaber, said the attack was a “cowardly terrorist act targeting the Yemeni people, their security and stability".

Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and the Arab League also condemned the attacks.

The United States said the attacks "demonstrate the malicious intent of those trying to destabilise Yemen". "Such attacks will not stop or undermine efforts to bring a lasting peace that the Yemeni people deserve. These violent acts must end, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice," the State Department said.

Britain's ambassador to Yemen, Michael Aron, said the blasts were, "a despicable attempt to cause carnage and chaos and bring suffering when Yemenis had chosen to move forward together".

The power-sharing deal is part of the Riyadh Agreement brokered by Saudi Arabia last year to end disputes between the STC and its allies in the Yemeni government.

The formation of the 24-member Cabinet, which was sworn in on Saturday by Mr Hadi, forges a joint front against the Iran-backed insurgents who have seized much of the north.

Mr Hadi has lived in the Saudi Arabian capital since Sanaa fell to the Houthis in 2014.

The following year, the Saudi-led coalition intervened at the request of the government.