BEIRUT, Lebanon – An attack on an oil storage facility in Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels in Yemen on Friday set a massive fire that filled the skies over the port city of Jeddah with black smoke on the first day of a Formula 1 car race targeting internationals. attract spectators.
A spokesman for the Saudi coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen called the strike an “aggressive escalation” aimed at disrupting oil markets and harming the global economy.
The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they also attacked other oil facilities in Saudi Arabia with drones and cruise missiles.
Saudi Arabia’s state-run news media reported on some of those attempts, but only the attack in Jeddah appeared to have caused significant damage.
The attacks were the Houthis’ latest attempt to inflict economic damage on Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, after seven years of ongoing war in neighboring Yemen.
The Houthis, who have received military and financial aid from Iran, the regional nemesis of the Saudis, seized the Yemeni capital of Sana in 2014, sent the Yemeni government into exile and encouraged a military intervention by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries targeting on restoring the Yemeni government.
The war has reached a stalemate, triggering one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with malnutrition, poverty and diseases such as cholera plaguing large numbers of Yemenis.
Brig. Gene. Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition, said the attack hit a fuel distribution station belonging to Saudi Aramco, the Saudi state oil monopoly, in Jeddah.
The attack set two storage tanks on fire, General al-Maliki said, adding that no one was injured and the fires were under control.
Pictures of a fireball rising from the storage tanks and a column of black smoke filling the air spread on social media and appeared to startle oil markets, already on edge over the uncertainty caused by the war in Ukraine. Oil briefly rose above USD 120 a barrel before declining slightly.
Drone and missile attacks from Yemen on Saudi Arabia have become common in recent years, and while most don’t do much damage, some do, and others tarnish the kingdom’s attempts to market itself as a safe haven for foreigners. investors, business people and tourists.
Friday’s attack appeared to coincide with the opening of the Formula 1 event, which is slated to run through Sunday. The attack was close enough to the site that the smoke was clearly visible from the track, where the practice runs were taking place for the races that were to start on Saturday.
The kingdom’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has urged bringing such events to Saudi Arabia as part of his wider plans to open up the country and diversify its oil-based economy.
Understand the war in Yemen
A divided country. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has been fighting for years in Yemen against the Houthis, a Shia Muslim rebel group that dominates northern parts of the country. Here’s what you need to know about the conflict:
Prince Mohammed, who also serves as the kingdom’s defense minister, was also the architect of the country’s 2015 military intervention in Yemen, which Saudi officials at the time said would last only a few weeks.
In January, the Houthis carried out a similar attack on the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally in the war in Yemen, blowing up oil tankers and killing three people. The rare attack on a country that does not share a border with Yemen suggested greater reach and capabilities of the Houthi, analysts said.
In September 2019, an attack claimed by the Houthis damaged key oil processing plants in eastern Saudi Arabia, causing them to temporarily go offline.
The increasing sophistication of the attacks has led Gulf officials and military analysts to accuse Iran of training and equipping its Yemeni allies to carry out the attacks or launching them itself while using the Houthis as cover.