The United Arab Emirates intercepted two ballistic missiles over the skies of Abu Dhabi, according to the authorities, in the second attack in a week against the Emirati capital. Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack.
The incident heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf, which had seen several attacks close to — but certainly never inside — Emirati territory, as the years-old war in Yemen continues and the Iranian nuclear deal with international powers collapses.
US troops at Al-Dhafra air base in Abu Dhabi took shelter in bunkers on site during the attack.
The attacks threatened efforts by the Emirates, a federation of seven kingdoms that also includes Dubai, to present itself as a fertile place for business and tourism. For years, the country has promoted itself as a safe corner in a dangerous neighborhood.
Videos posted on social media showed what appeared to be interceptor missiles lighting up the sky over Abu Dhabi before dawn on Monday to neutralize the threat. Two explosions were heard later, echoing through the city. Known features of Abu Dhabi can be seen in the recordings.
Fragments of the missiles fell on the capital without causing damage, according to the state news agency WAM.
The US “is prepared and ready to face any threat and will take all necessary measures to protect the state from all attacks,” the Defense Ministry said, according to WAM.
The missile launch disrupted air traffic at Abu Dhabi International Airport, home to long-haul airline Etihad, for about an hour after the attack.
Houthi military spokesman Yehia Sarea claimed responsibility for the attack in a televised statement, saying the rebels had used ballistic missiles and drones against the Emirates. He warned that the UAE will continue to be targeted “as long as the attacks on the Yemeni people continue.”
“We warn companies and private investors to leave the Emirates!” Sarea exclaimed from a podium. “This has become an unsafe country!”
The Dubai stock market fell 2 percent after the attack with almost all companies in the red. Shares on the Abu Dhabi stock market also fell slightly.
At the Al-Dhafra base, where US and British troops are stationed, US troops took cover in bunkers during the attack, according to the Air Force Middle East Command.
Videos shared on social media suggested interceptor shells had left the base.
The US embassy in Abu Dhabi later issued a security alert to Americans residing in the Emirates, asking them to “maintain a high level of security awareness.” The alert included instructions on how to react to missile attacks, something unprecedented in the UAE, a tourist destination where Dubai is located.
The Emirati Defense Ministry later tweeted a video it said showed an F-16 attacking a ballistic missile launch facility used in the Abu Dhabi attack. The ministry said the site was near Al-Jawaf, a Yemeni province about 1.4 kilometers southwest of Abu Dhabi.
The state-linked newspaper The National in Abu Dhabi said the F-16 was Emirati, raising questions about the extent to which the UAE is involved in the fighting after withdrawing most of its ground forces in 2019. to militias on the ground like the Giant Brigades, which have gained ground from the Houthis in recent weeks.
The Zulfiqar ballistic missile, believed to have a range of 1.5 kilometers, is based on the Iranian Qiam missile, according to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Iran denies directly arming the Houthis, although United Nations experts, Western countries and analysts have linked weapons from the rebel arsenal to Tehran.
The attack came a week after Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for an attack on the Emirati capital, which hit the airport and an Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. fuel depot in the Mussafah neighborhood. That attack on the oil facility left three dead and six wounded.
New high-resolution satellite images from Planet Labs PBC seen by The Associated Press showed repair work still underway at the fuel depot on Saturday. The Emirati authorities have not published images of the attacked places or allowed journalists to see them.
In recent days, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United Arab Emirates unleashed devastating airstrikes in Yemen, leaving the poorest country in the Arab world without internet service and killing more than 80 people in a detention center.
The Houthis had threatened to take revenge on the Emirates and Saudi Arabia for those attacks. On Sunday, the Saudi-led coalition said a rebel-launched ballistic missile landed in an industrial zone in Jizan, Saudi Arabia, causing minor injuries to an outsider.
The Iranian newspaper Kayhan, affiliated with the most belligerent branch of the government and whose editor-in-chief was appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, published a front-page article on Sunday quoting Houthi officials announcing new attacks on UAE under the headline: “Evacuate Emirati commercial towers”.
In 2017, the newspaper had faced a two-day publication ban after running a headline that said Dubai was the Houthis’ “next target.”