Yemen rebels claim Saudi oil facility hit; no damage seen
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they attacked a Saudi oil facility in the port city of Jiddah on Thursday amid their campaign of drone and missile attacks on the kingdom, though satellite pictures later analyzed by The Associated Press showed no new apparent damage at the site.
Saudi Arabia’s state-owned media did not acknowledge any incident in Jiddah. But overnight, a military coalition led by the Saudis announced that the Houthis launched two explosives-laden drones toward Khamis Mushait, a southwestern city home to the King Khalid Air Base, and later two ballistic missiles toward the southern province of Jizan. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Brig. Gen. Yehia Sarie, a Houthi military spokesman, tweeted that the rebels fired a new Quds-2 cruise missile at the facility. He posted a satellite image online that matched Aramco’s North Jiddah Bulk Plant, where oil products are stored in tanks. The Iran-backed rebels claimed they hit the same facility last November, an attack the Saudi-led coalition later acknowledged had ignited a fire at the plant.
While such attacks rarely cause damage or casualties, strikes on major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, have shaken energy markets and the world economy.
The Jiddah plant serves as a temporary storage facility for gasoline, diesel and other petrochemicals before distribution. The facility sits just southeast of the city’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, a major airfield that handles Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca.
Flights coming into the airport diverted or otherwise flew in circles early Thursday morning without explanation, according to tracking data from website FlightRadar24.com.
An Associated Press journalist at the scene did not see any smoke immediately rising from the installation Thursday morning. On Friday, the AP analyzed satellite photos of the area taken by Planet Labs Inc. The images Thursday showed char marks on a tank struck in the November attack that had been present in previous days’ images, but no other signs of a disruption or damage at the facility.
Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s oil giant that now has a sliver of its worth traded publicly on the stock market, did not respond to a request for comment. Its stock traded slightly up Thursday on Riyadh’s Tadawul stock exchange as the international crude benchmark, Brent, rose to more than $64 a barrel.
U.S. diplomats in Saudi Arabia issued warnings to Americans citing the claimed attack on the Aramco facility, among other reported drone strikes on the kingdom’s south. It said it wasn’t aware of any casualties and urged Americans to “review immediate precautions to take in the event of an attack.”
“These attacks have occurred with little or no warning, impacting airports, energy infrastructure and other civilian facilities,” American diplomats said in a new warning early Friday. “Violence associated with Iran-supported groups represents a significant threat. U.S. citizens living and working near military bases and critical civilian infrastructure, including airports, are at heightened risk of missile and drone attack.”
Since 2015, the Houthis battling the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen have targeted international airports, along with military installations and critical oil infrastructure, within Saudi Arabia. In recent months the rebels have escalated their attacks, repeatedly crashing drones and missiles into the kingdom’s Patriot missile batteries. Earlier this week, a ballistic missile reached as far as the capital, Riyadh, where it was intercepted and exploded in the sky, scattering shrapnel debris over the city.
The conflict in Yemen erupted nearly six years ago, after the Houthis swept into the capital and seized much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led military coalition launched a bombing campaign to dislodge the Houthis and restore the internationally recognized government.
Now mired in stalemate, the war has killed more than 12,000 civilians, pushed millions to the brink of famine and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabia has faced widespread international criticism for its airstrikes that have killed civilians and hit non-military targets in Yemen.
Both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis have made conflicting claims on the effect of the rebels’ attacks and the kingdom’s ability to intercept those strikes, making discerning their impact that much more difficult in the war.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.