Yemen Airport Is Attacked as New Government Arrives
AL MUKALLA, Yemen — An attack on an airport in Aden, Yemen, killed at least 20 civilians and wounded dozens more on Wednesday just as a plane carrying members of the country’s newly formed government cabinet was arriving, the Yemeni health minister’s office said.
No cabinet ministers appeared to have been injured, and black S.U.V.s quickly arrived to speed them to the presidential palace in Aden. Within hours, however, the local news media reported explosions at the complex, throwing the situation into further confusion.
The formation of the new cabinet was supposed to be a step toward resolving one of the entangled conflicts that make up Yemen’s civil war, which has killed tens of thousands of civilians and brought the country into what aid groups have called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“The hand of terror will not stop us from performing our tasks,” Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed said in a brief televised statement, calling on the government to stay in Aden and perform its duties.
Video recorded by journalists who were at the airport to cover the cabinet members’ arrival showed dignitaries lined up to greet the ministers when an explosion went off, sending white smoke billowing across the tarmac and people running in all directions.
A Yemenia airline official who was at the airport said the arrivals hall had been full of official delegations there to receive the cabinet members when the explosion rocked the hall. Another explosion occurred a few minutes later, close to the first, he said, followed by a third near the runway.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said one of its staff members had died in the explosion, while two more were missing and three were wounded.
Six of those wounded in the attack were critically injured, the Health Ministry said, and the death toll was expected to rise.
The Yemeni conflict began in late 2014 and escalated in 2015, when a coalition led by Saudi Arabia began a bombing campaign there. The fighting had been mostly between Houthi rebels based in northern Yemen, along the Saudi border, and a government to the south backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Houthis control much of northern Yemen, including the capital, Sana.
The government has been based in Aden, a port city in the south, but has largely operated in exile in Saudi Arabia. The government side splintered last year between Saudi-backed forces and southern separatists sponsored by the Emirates, causing clashes in the south and hampering efforts to negotiate a political settlement to end the war.
The separatists seized control of Aden last year.
Saudi Arabia, in fits and starts, has pushed the Yemenis to mend the broken government alliance against the Houthis. A new unity government that the kingdom’s negotiators brokered under a power-sharing deal known as the Riyadh Agreement was sworn in this month.
In the hours after the blast, no one claimed responsibility, though officials from various factions were quick to make accusations.
Members of the new government blamed the Houthis.
The government’s new foreign minister, Ahmed BinMubarak, who was on the plane, said on Twitter that the “targeting” of the new cabinet had been a “criminal and terrorist act perpetrated by Houthis, which should be uniformly and unambiguously condemned.”
Nizar Haytham, a spokesman for the Southern Transitional Council, the southern separatists’ governing body, charged that the Houthis and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood had cooperated in the attack in order to undermine the coalition. He said an initial investigation had shown that the airport was struck by a missile fired by a drone.
Muhammad al-Bukhaiti, a Houthi official, denied responsibility for the attack, Al Jazeera reported.
The Trump administration is weighing whether to designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, American officials have said.
Affiliates of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State also operate in Yemen.
Among the dead were Yemeni government officials who had been waiting to greet the new ministers, who had flown from Saudi Arabia, said Fadi Baoum, an official affiliated with a group that advocates independence in southern Yemen who spoke with airport employees.
Mr. Baoum blamed Saudi officials for not keeping the airport secure. “Saudi Arabia has sponsored this government,” he said by telephone. “It is their responsibility to provide the necessary security to this government they backed.”
“Twenty-four ministers arrived. How come the security was so weak there?” he said.
Al Arabiya, a Saudi news channel, reported that the dead included a deputy transportation minister. One of those killed was a reporter for Balqees TV who was covering the cabinet’s arrival, Balqees announced.
Doctors Without Borders said it had treated 17 people for injuries and discharged six.
Saeed Al-Batati reported from Al Mukalla, Yemen, and Vivian Yee from Cairo. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon, and Shuaib Almosawa from Sana, Yemen.