US, UAE intercept Houthi ballistic missiles over Abu Dhabi

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The United States deployed the Patriot missile defense system on “two incoming missiles” at Al Dhafra Air Base, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement. A senior defense official told CNN it was the first time the United States had fired a Patriot missile since the first Gulf War in 1991.

“A concerted effort successfully prevented two missiles from impacting the base. There were no American casualties,” CENTCOM said.

The attack was the second in a week against the UAE, a member of the Saudi-led coalition that has been at war with Iran-backed Houthi rebels for years, marking a notable escalation in tensions. The UAE has largely avoided the line of fire, with the Houthis opting instead to attack Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen.

CNN earlier reported that the UAE intercepted two ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis early on Monday, which Iran-backed groups warned would be part of an ongoing operation against the UAE capital.

At 4.15am, Abu Dhabi’s skyline lit up what witnesses described as a “fireball in the sky”. Some residents of the capital were awakened by the sound of explosions as anti-aircraft missiles intercepted the projectiles.

The incident comes a week after Houthi drone and missile strikes near Abu Dhabi airport killed three foreign workers and injured several others.

“Its air defense systems intercepted and destroyed two ballistic missiles launched by the terrorist Houthis,” the UAE’s defense ministry said in a statement on Monday.

“The attack did not cause any casualties as the remnants of the intercepted and destroyed ballistic missiles landed in various areas around the emirate of Abu Dhabi,” the statement added.

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The ministry said it was “ready to respond to any threat and to take all necessary measures to protect the country from all attacks.”

Several flights were delayed arriving at Abu Dhabi Airport, according to the Abu Dhabi Airports website. Flight-tracking website Flightradar24 showed planes bound for Abu Dhabi circling near the airport.

The U.S. embassy in Abu Dhabi also called on U.S. citizens in the UAE to maintain a “high level of security awareness,” issuing a series of instructions on how to respond to missile strikes.

Shortly after the incident in Abu Dhabi on Monday, the UAE Defense Ministry said an F-16 fighter jet destroyed a ballistic missile launcher used to target the UAE capital. It did not specify which country the plane belonged to.

Yemen’s Houthis claim they are targeting Dubai, the commercial hub of the United Arab Emirates, and Al Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, home to the US Air Force’s 380th Air Expeditionary Wing.

Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree warned on Monday that the group would “expand operations in the next phase”.

“We call on foreign companies and investors to leave the UAE,” Saree said in a video statement. “It’s subject to persistent goals.”

Abu Dhabi has been repeatedly rated as one of the safest cities in the world, with UAE officials calling the January 17 strike “unprecedented”.

For decades, the UAE has avoided turmoil in a crisis-ridden region, attracting millions of expats and massive foreign investment. The country’s economy is heavily dependent on foreign labor.

Week-long violence escalates

Yemen’s Houthis have vowed to retaliate last week for a series of deadly airstrikes in northern Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition, of which the UAE is a key partner, that killed dozens of people. The airstrikes also disrupted the nation’s internet after hitting telecommunications towers.

Yemen’s nationwide internet outage entered its fourth day on Monday, according to internet watchdog NetBlocks.

At least 70 people were killed on Friday in an airstrike on a detention center in the Yemeni city of Saada, according to international aid groups.
The Saudi-led coalition has denied that its spokesman, Brigg, deliberately targeted the detention center. General Turki Al-Maliki called the claims “baseless and unfounded,” according to the Saudi state news agency SPA.
The coalition did say it attacked Hodeidah, shooting down “one of the [Houthis’] A den of pirates and organised crime. The coalition also said it attacked “military targets” in Sana’a. Last week’s offensive began in Abu Dhabi last Monday.

The UN Security Council on Friday unanimously condemned the January 17 strike in the UAE capital.

The UAE, a major coalition partner, has been fighting in a six-year Saudi-led military campaign to crush the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels that control much of Yemen.

The offensive began in 2015 to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which had been overthrown by the Houthis. The coalition has stepped up its attack on the war-torn country after Houthi missile and drone strikes in Abu Dhabi last week.

In 2019, the UAE withdrew most of its troops from Yemen after privately deeming the war unwinnable. The movement has failed to crush the rebels, but has inflicted enormous humanitarian toll, with thousands of Yemenis dead and widespread malnutrition and disease.

More recently, the UAE has returned to conflict, supporting Yemeni groups in hotspots such as the oil-rich Shabwa and Marib provinces.

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