DUBAI: Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi Aramco oil facility setting off a huge fire visible from Jeddah’s Formula One track as part of a wave of attacks on Friday.
“We did several attacks with drones and ballistic missiles,” the Iran-backed Houthi rebels said in a statement, including an “Aramco installation in Jeddah (and) vital installations in Riyadh”.
Smoke billowed near Jeddah’s F1 track as drivers took part in practice runs, with Red Bull’s world champion Max Verstappen saying he could smell the blaze as he drove.
“I can smell burning... is it my car?” the Dutchman asked over team radio.
The rebels claimed 16 attacks on a number of targets including an electrical station in Jizan, bordering Yemen, which was set ablaze.
The attack targeted the same fuel depot that the Houthis had attacked in recent days, the North Jeddah Bulk Plant sits just southeast of the city’s international airport, a crucial hub for Muslim pilgrims heading to Makkah.
The Saudi Arabian Oil Company, known as Saudi Aramco, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Saudi state TV only acknowledged a hostile operation targeting the depot, without elaborating.
The attacks came as Saudi Arabia still leads a coalition battling the Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital of Sanaa in September 2014. The kingdom, which entered the war in Yemen in 2015, has been internationally criticised for its airstrikes that have killed civilians something the Houthis point to as they launch drones, missiles and mortars into the kingdom.
The second-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah is taking place on Sunday, though concerns had been raised by some over the recent attacks targeting the kingdom.
The F1 said in a statement that: “The position at the moment is that we are waiting for further information from the authorities on what has happened.” The F1 did not elaborate.
The al-Masirah satellite news channel run by Yemen’s Houthi rebels later claimed they had attacked an Aramco facility in Jeddah, along with other targets in Riyadh and elsewhere. The report provided no further details.
Meanwhile, Saudi state TV also acknowledged attacks in the town of Dhahran targeting water tanks that damaged vehicles and homes. Another attack targeted an electrical substation in an area of southwestern Saudi Arabia near the Yemeni border, state TV said.
The North Jeddah Bulk Plant stores diesel, gasoline and jet fuel for use in Jeddah, the kingdom’s second-largest city. It accounts for over a quarter of all of Saudi Arabia’s supplies and also supplies fuel crucial to running a regional desalination plant.
The Houthis have twice targeted the North Jeddah plant with cruise missiles. One attack came in November 2020. The last came on Sunday as part of a wider barrage by the Houthis.
Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2022