Saudi says it intercepted Yemen rebel missile over Riyadh

Riyadh (AFP) –


Saudi Arabia said it intercepted a missile Tuesday over Riyadh fired by Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen who announced that the target was the official residence of King Salman.

Saudi Arabia and the United States have accused Iran of supplying weapons to the insurgents, and Riyadh described the latest missile as "Iranian-Huthi".

An AFP correspondent heard a loud explosion at 1050 GMT, shortly before the scheduled unveiling of the Saudi budget, which is usually announced by the king from the Yamamah palace, his official residence.

"Coalition forces confirm intercepting an Iranian-Huthi missile," the Center for International Communication, an arm of the Saudi information ministry, said on Twitter.

"There are no reported casualties at this time," it added.

It was the second missile fired by the Huthis -- who seized the Yemeni capital in 2014 -- at Riyadh in the past two months.

The attacks, which could further escalate a military campaign by a Saudi-led coalition against the rebels, underscore how the raging Yemen conflict is increasingly spilling across the border.

The first attack, which targeted Riyadh international airport on November 4, triggered the tightening of a long-standing Saudi-led blockade of Yemen -- already on the verge of famine.

Saudi Arabia angrily accused its arch foe Iran of supplying the missile to the rebels, a charge Tehran strongly denied.

On Thursday, US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley presented what she called "undeniable" evidence that last month's missile was "made in Iran".

But her comments went beyond the findings of a UN investigation which reached no firm conclusion on whether the missile came from an Iranian supplier, saying only that it had a "common origin" to some Iranian designs.

The coalition, which accuses the rebels of being a proxy for Iran, says the blockade is needed to stop the flow of arms to the Huthis from Tehran.

Residents in the Saudi capital reported hearing a loud explosion and seeing smoke after Tuesday's attack.

"I was in my office when I heard a big bang," said Tomas Kompikan, one of the many foreign workers in Riyadh.

"Suddenly after around 30 to 45 seconds I heard a next sound... and we saw a white smoke."

The Huthi rebels last month warned that they considered "airports, ports, border crossings and areas of any importance" in Saudi Arabia, as well as its ally the United Arab Emirates, as legitimate targets.

More than 8,750 people have been killed since Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the government's fight against the Huthis in 2015, triggering what the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.