A large explosion rocked the airport in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on Wednesday, shortly after a plane carrying the newly formed cabinet landed there, killing at least 25 people, AFP reports.
Yemen’s internationally recognised government said Iran-backed Houthi rebels fired four ballistic missiles at the airport. No one on the government plane was hurt.
Officials later reported another explosion close to a palace in the city where the cabinet members were transferred following the airport attack. The Saudi-led coalition later shot down a bomb-laden drone that attempted to target the palace.
The cabinet reshuffle was seen as a major step toward closing a dangerous rift between the government of embattled Yemeni President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates. Hadi’s government and the separatists are nominal allies in Yemen’s years-long civil war that pits the Saudi-led, US-backed military coalition against the Houthis, who control most of northern Yemen as well as the country’s capital, Sanaa.
A footage from the scene at the airport showed members of the government delegation disembarking as the blast shook the grounds. Many ministers rushed back inside the plane or ran down the stairs, seeking shelter.
Thick smoke rose into the air from near the terminal building. Officials at the scene said they saw bodies lying on the tarmac and elsewhere at the airport.
Yemeni Communication Minister, Naguib al-Awg, who was on the plane, said he heard two explosions, suggesting they were drone attacks. Prime Minister, Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, and the others were quickly whisked away from the airport to the Mashiq Palace.
Military and security forces sealed off the area around the palace.
“It would have been a disaster if the plane was bombed,” al-Awg said, insisting the plane was the target of the attack as it was supposed to land earlier.
Prime Minister Saeed tweeted that he and his cabinet were safe and unhurt. He called the explosions a “cowardly terrorist act” that was part of the war on “the Yemeni state and our great people.”
Foreign Minister, Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, blamed the Houthis for the attacks. His ministry said in a statement later that the rebels fired four ballistic missiles at the airport, and launched drone attacks at the palace, the cabinet’s headquarters. They did not provide evidence.
Health Minister, Qasem Buhaibuh, said in a tweet the attacks at the airport killed at least 25 people and wounded 110 others, suggesting the death toll could increase further because some of the wounds were serious.
Images shared on social media from the scene showed rubble and broken glass strewn about near the airport building and at least two lifeless bodies, one of them charred, lying on the ground. In another image, a man tries to help another man whose clothes were torn to get up from the ground.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said three of its workers were killed in the airport blast.