The United Arab Emirates intercepted two missiles launched by the Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen, its official news agency said on Monday, one week after a deadly strike by the group killed three people in Abu Dhabi.
Parts of the missiles fell over Abu Dhabi and did not cause any casualties but the attack highlighted the growing threat from the Houthis, who have targeted neighbouring Saudi Arabia for years with missile and drone strikes.
The rebels according to Financial Times claimed responsibility last week for a drone and missile strike on the UAE following weeks of threats. The assault was the first time the Gulf monarchy had acknowledged a Houthi attack on its territory, after previously denying rebel claims that they had struck Abu Dhabi’s airport and nuclear power plant.
The Houthis’ military spokesman said in a statement that the militia had targeted the Al Dhafra air base near Abu Dhabi city, which hosts US fighter jets, and other “sensitive sites”.
They also targeted locations in Dubai with drones, the statement added. The UAE has not acknowledged any military action against Dubai.
The UAE defence ministry said fighter jets had destroyed a ballistic missile launcher in the Houthi-controlled Al Jawf province to the north-east of Sana’a, Yemen’s largest city, immediately after it had been used to launch two missiles towards Abu Dhabi.
The UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the Yemeni civil war in 2015, after the Houthi rebels ousted the internationally recognised government, over fears that arch rival Iran would expand its influence on its borders.
The coalition pushed the rebels out of the south back into their northern highlands but the conflict ground to a stalemate. The UN has described the Yemen war as the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis, with almost 250,000 direct and indirect deaths.
The latest attack on the UAE followed days of air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition on what it described as Houthi targets in Yemen. This included the targeting of a temporary detention centre in the rebels’ heartland of Saada, which killed at least 60 people.
There has also been an increase in violence around Marib, a Yemeni province where the rebels launched an offensive last year and ousted the government from its last foothold in the north.
In recent weeks, UAE-allied fighters known as the Giants Brigades have wrested control of the neighbouring energy-rich province of Shabwa and are now targeting Houthi lines around Marib city.
The rebels complained that the UAE’s “mercenaries” had intervened in the battle.
Saudi media reported on Monday that two ballistic missiles had targeted the south of the kingdom. The strikes injured two foreigners and caused damage to workshops and vehicles.
The Houthi attack on the UAE threatens the carefully constructed atmosphere of safety and security in the Middle East’s tourist and commercial hub, where many multinationals have established their regional headquarters.
Residents in Abu Dhabi said they were woken by loud explosions and flashes in the sky at about 4:20am.
“It was super scary,” said one, who lives on the main island of Abu Dhabi. “I think it was quite close. Lots of chatter in our compound WhatsApp group. Everyone was awake.”
The UAE defence ministry said it was “ready to deal with any threats and that it is taking all necessary measures to protect the state from all attacks”, the state news agency reported.