Multiple explosions were heard and the night skies above Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, lit up with bright flashes on Saturday as a Saudi-led military coalition announced the thwarting of a missile attack that it blamed on Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
Brigadier General Turki al-Malki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said in a statement that the Houthis launched a ballistic missile towards Riyadh and three booby-trapped drones towards the province of Jizan, with a fourth towards the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait.
No casualties were reported, although state-run Al Ekhbariya television said fragments of the missile scattered over several Riyadh neighbourhoods, damaging at least one home.
There was no immediate comment from the Houthis.
The attacks came as Saudi Arabia hosted a Formula E championship on the outskirts of Riyadh, which state media said was attended by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Al Ekhbariya broadcast footage of what appeared to be explosions in the air over Riyadh, and social media users also posted videos, with some showing residents shrieking as they watched the fiery blast pierce the night sky, which appeared to be the kingdom’s Patriot missile batteries intercepting the ballistic missile.
Al Malki said the Houthis were trying in “a systematic and deliberate way to target civilians”.
The US Embassy in Riyadh issued a warning to Americans, calling on them to “stay alert in case of additional future attacks”. Flight-tracking websites showed several flights scheduled to land at Riyadh’s international airport diverted or delayed in the hour after the attack.
As Yemen’s years-long war grinds on, Houthi missile and drone attacks on the kingdom have grown commonplace, only rarely causing damage. Earlier this month, the Houthis struck an empty passenger plane at Saudi Arabia’s southwestern Abha airport with a bomb-laden drone, causing it to catch fire.
Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition has faced widespread international criticism for aerial bombing campaigns in Yemen that have killed hundreds of civilians and hit non-military targets, including schools, hospitals and wedding parties.
US President Joe Biden announced this month that he was ending his country’s support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, including “relevant” arms sales. But he stressed that the US would continue to help Saudi Arabia defend itself against outside attacks.
The Houthis overran Yemen’s capital and much of the country’s north in 2014, forcing the government into exile and months later, prompting Saudi Arabia and its allies to intervene. But years of bombing have failed to shake the rebels’ hold on the capital Sanaa, and they have steadily expanded their reach in the country’s north.
The Houthis are now pressing ahead with a deadly offensive to seize the Yemeni government stronghold of Marib, where some of the country’s richest oil fields are found.
Yemen’s grinding conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions, according to international organisations, sparking what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.