Yemen’s Houthi rebels have once again made good on their threats to target Saudis on their own turf, and this time they targeted the top. The rebels say they fired a ballistic missile at a Riyadh palace that was hosting a meeting of the kingdom’s royal leaders, including the crown prince, but Saudi authorities say it was intercepted before impact.
Houthi rebels, an Iranian-backed Shia group engaged in a brutal war with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen, fired the Burkan 2-H missile at al-Yamama royal palace in Riyadh, spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam said.
Houthi-controlled al-Masirah TV reported that the missile, an Iranian-modified scud, had been targeting a meeting of Saudi leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It said the leaders had been meeting in the palace, the main headquarters of the king’s office, to discuss the annual budget.
Pictures posted on social media by witnesses in Riyadh showed a cloud of smoke in the air. Saudi Arabia later issued a statement confirming that an “Iranian-Houthi missile” had been intercepted south of Riyadh. There were no casualties, the statement said.
It was the third attempted ballistic missile attack by Houthi forces on Saudi Arabia since November, a major escalation of the Yemen conflict in keeping with a pledge by the Houthis to target the Saudis on their home soil.
On Nov. 4, Saudi Arabia said it intercepted a Houthi missile over Riyadh’s international airport, prompting it to accuse Iran, the Houthis’ principal backers and Saudi’s regional archrival, of committing an “act of war.” Some analysts have cast doubt on the claim that the missile was successfully intercepted, suggesting the Saudis’ U.S.-supplied Patriot missile defense system failed and the warhead landed close to the airport.
On Dec. 1, Saudi defense officials claimed they had intercepted another Houthi missile, believed to be targeting the city of Khamis.
Saudi Arabia has been leading a coalition against the Houthis, who toppled Yemen's internationally recognized government in 2015, in a devastating war that has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
More than 8,670 people have been killed and about 50,000 injured since the Saudi intervention, according to the United Nations, and blockades and fighting have left 20 million in need of aid.
Last month, Houthi spokesman Abdul Salam vowed to target the Saudis within their kingdom.
“The Saudis started the war. Our response will continue and increase, whether it's targeting deep inside Saudi Arabia, targeting military positions where Saudi jets fly from, or military bases inside Yemeni territory,” he told Al Jazeera.