ADEN (Reuters) - Unidentified assailants fired missiles at an Aden hotel housing Yemeni officials and at a Gulf military base in Aden on Tuesday, a government spokesman and residents said, in the biggest attack on the government since it retook the city from Houthi foes in July.
An unknown number of people were killed or injured in the attack, which the government said it was investigating.
Initial reports, including the official United Arab Emirates news agency, said the missiles were rocket-propelled grenades. But the newspaper Aden al-Ghad quoted Minister of Youth and Sport Nayef al-Bakri as saying the attacks were by suicide bombers.
Video footage posted on Twitter purporting to show the incident showed a large sheet of flame enveloping the front of the Qasr hotel, followed by an expanding plume of dark smoke.
“There was a fire for two hours,” Mohammed al-Saadi, a southern politician who arrived at the hotel about two hours after it was attacked, told Reuters. “The soldiers at the door died in the attack, but I don’t know how many there were.
Yemeni Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and “many ministers were sleeping in the hotel,” Saadi said. “They and all the government workers have now been moved to a secret place.” President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was believed to be in Saudi Arabia.
Government spokesman Rajeh Badi told Reuters the cause of the explosions at the hotel were “rockets”.
“No one from among the government was wounded, but we don’t have any information on other casualties. The government is not holding anyone responsible yet and an investigation is being launched,” he said.
One missile apparently was fired at the gate of the hotel, residents said. A second missile landed nearby and a third hit a compound in Aden’s Buraiqah district where Gulf Arab troops are housed, they said.
The United Arab Emirates, a leading supporter of Hadi’s government, blamed the attack on his Iranian-allied Houthi enemies and their main local ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a Twitter message the attack on the hotel was further proof that the Houthis and Saleh were determined to destroy Yemen.
“The situation on the ground shows that they are waging a losing battle and that their role has been diminished to retreating on the ground and to try to inflict damage with mines, ambushes and rockets,” he said in another message.
Aden al-Ghad reported on its website that Bahah said after the attack he was determined to stay in the city.
The Qasr hotel has been the base of Hadi’s government since its gradual return from exile in Riyadh over recent weeks, after Houthi fighters were expelled in July.
The hotel has been guarded by troops from the United Arab Emirates, one of the members of a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting since March to end Houthi control of Yemen and restore Hadi to power in the capital, Sanaa.
Hadi’s government has demanded the Houthis recognize its authority and withdraw from several cities, including Sanaa, which they seized in late 2014 and early 2015.
Air strikes and ground fighting have killed over 4,500 people in Yemen since Gulf Arab nations launched a military campaign in support of Hadi on March 26. U.N.-backed efforts for a compromise have come to nothing.
The Houthis have condemned the coalition for alleged war crimes. They say their seizure of Sanaa in September and their spread throughout the country was part of a revolution against a corrupt Yemeni government beholden to Gulf monarchies and what they see as the imperialist West.
Reporting by Mostafa Hashem, Reem Shamseddine, Angus McDowall, Sami Aboudi and Noah Browning; Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Larry King