By Becky Anderson, Sarah L. Sirgany, Helen Regan and Mustafa Salem | CNN
The United Arab Emirates intercepted two ballistic missiles launched by Yemen’s Houthis in its capital Abu Dhabi early Monday, in a move that the Iran-backed group warned would be part of an ongoing campaign to target the Emirati capital.
The skyline of Abu Dhabi lit up at 4:15 a.m., described by witnesses as a “ball of fire in the sky.” As air defense missiles intercepted the projectiles, some residents of the capital were woken up by the sound of explosions.
The incident comes a week after a Houthi drone and missile attack near Abu Dhabi’s airport killed three foreign workers and injured several others.
“Its air defense intercepted and destroyed two ballistic missiles fired by the terrorist Houthi group,” the United Arab Emirates’ defense ministry said in a statement on Monday.
“There were no casualties in the attack as the remnants of the intercepted and destroyed ballistic missiles fell in different areas around the Emirate of Abu Dhabi,” the statement said.
The ministry said it is “ready to deal with any threat, and takes all necessary measures to protect the state from all attacks.”
According to the airport’s website, several flights were delayed arriving at Abu Dhabi airport. Flight tracking website Flightradar24 showed planes bound for Abu Dhabi flying in a circle near the airport.
The US embassy in Abu Dhabi called on US citizens in the UAE to maintain a “high level of security awareness”, issuing a series of instructions on how to respond to the missile attack.
Shortly after Monday’s incident in Abu Dhabi, the UAE Defense Ministry said an F-16 fighter jet had destroyed a ballistic missile launcher used to target the UAE capital. It did not specify which country the plane belonged to.
Yemen’s Houthis claimed they were targeting the UAE’s commercial hub of Dubai, as well as Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra Airbase, which hosts the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing of the United States Air Force.
Houthi spokesman Yahya Sari warned on Monday that the group would “expand its operations in the next phase.”
“We are calling on foreign companies and investors to leave the UAE,” Sari said in a video statement. “It’s under constant targeting.”
Abu Dhabi has repeatedly been rated one of the safest cities in the world, with the January 17 strike being deemed “unprecedented” by Emirati authorities.
For decades, the UAE staved off unrest in the beleaguered region, attracting millions of expatriates and vast amounts of foreign investment. The country’s economy depends heavily on a foreign workforce.
Week-long violence escalates
Yemen’s Houthis vowed last week to retaliate for a series of deadly airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition – of which the United Arab Emirates is a major participant – in northern Yemen that killed several people. Airstrikes also knocked down the internet across the country after it struck a telecommunications tower.
A nationwide internet outage in Yemen entered its fourth day on Monday, according to internet watchdog Netblox.
At least 70 people were killed in an airstrike on a detention center in the Yemeni city of Saada on Friday, according to international aid groups.
The Saudi-led coalition, along with its spokesman Brigadier, denied intentionally targeting the detention center. According to Saudi state news agency SPA, General Turki al-Maliki described the claims as “baseless and baseless”.
The Coalition said it had killed Hodeidah, taking down “one of them”. [Houthis’] A hotbed of piracy and organized crime.” The coalition also said it attacked “military bases” in Sanaa. Last week’s attack began after last Monday’s attack in Abu Dhabi.
The United Nations Security Council last Friday unanimously condemned the January 17 strike in the UAE capital.
The UAE is a key coalition ally fighting a six-year Saudi-led military campaign to crush Iran-backed Houthi rebels, which control much of Yemen.
The offensive to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government began in 2015, when it was overthrown by the Houthis. The coalition has stepped up its strikes in the war-torn country in the wake of last week’s Houthi missile and drone strikes in Abu Dhabi.
In 2019, the United Arab Emirates pulled most of its troops from Yemen, after privately deemed the war invincible. The campaign failed to crush the rebels, but caused thousands of Yemeni casualties and a widespread humanitarian toll of malnutrition and disease.
More recently, the United Arab Emirates has returned to the conflict, supporting Yemeni groups in flashpoints such as the oil-rich provinces of Shabwa and Marib.