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INVESTIGATIONS

Attack on Aden International Airport

February 9, 2021

An investigation reveals the attacks on the Aden International Airport, east of Aden governorate, on Dec 30, 2020

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Incident Summary

  • About the incident: Attack on Aden International Airport
  • Place of attack: Aden International Airport in the Khormaksar District, east of Aden governorate (the temporary capital)
  • Date: December 30, 2020
  • Time of Attack: Between 13:24 - 13:25 Yemen Local Time
  • Casualties: 17 killed and more than 120 injured.
  • Type of attack: Missiles
  • Weapons used: Unknown
  • Potentially responsible: Forces affiliated with the Ansar Allah movement “Houthis”

Introduction:

On Wednesday, December 30, 2020, several news sites and social media platforms circulated news, photos, and videos of an attack with three missiles that took place moments after a plane carrying the newly-formed Yemeni government - the prime minister and 23 Cabinet members - landed at the Aden International Airport. The attack rocked the airport as one of the missiles hit a wall on the north side of the terminal building. The other two fell nearthe main runway. The attack killed and injured a number of civilians at the airport during the arrival of the government delegation’s plane.

Aden International Airport is located in the Khor Maksar District, east of Aden city, on the coastal road of the Abyan governorate in southern Yemen. In early 2015, the Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi declared the Aden governorate the temporary capital of the country after the Ansar Allah movement took over the capital and state institutions.

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With a military advance on Aden city and the bombing of Al-Masheeq palace (the President residence) l, forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Ansar Allah movement “Houthis” forces coming from the north took control of most of the city directorates, before the Saudi-led coalition intervened at the official request of the Yemeni president and restored the Aden province to government control in late July 2015.

Forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Ansar Allah movement “Houthis” forces have retreated to the governorates adjacent to the temporary capital Aden, most notably to the eastern areas of the Taiz governorate, northern Al-Dhalea governorate, and parts of the Abyan governorate. Long-range missiles and drones are sometimes launched from these areas. This happened with the attack in September 2019, which targeted one of the leaders of the Southern Transitional Council. The attack led to the expulsion of the Yemeni government from Aden after days of military clashes.

What Happened?

On Wednesday, December 30, 2020at 13:27 local time in Yemen during live media coverage of the newly-formed Yemeni government’s arrival at Aden International Airport, blasts rocked the airport as passengers disembarked the government plane. One of the explosions was heard near a wall on the north side of the terminal building. A crowd that had gathered on the tarmac to welcome the ministers fled as thick smoke billowed from the airport terminal. The sound of gunfire was heard soon afterwards.

Screenshots from Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera videos reports about the incident

The cause of the explosions was unclear with reports suggesting mortar shells, a drone attack, or a planted explosive device as potential sources of the explosions.Al-Arabiya TV published a video showing in slow motion a missile that, in a second attack, hit the airport runway.

A video taken from the Al-Arabiya TV video report, which documents in slow motion the moment the missile hit the airport.

The attack resulted in casualties among the crowd gathered on the tarmac beside the plane to welcome the new cabinet. There are accusations and denials between both parties of the conflict in Yemen regarding responsibility for the attack.

4 A tweet by the “Al-Arabiya TV” account on Twitter about the incident

Munitions used in the attack

A local source “Muhammad al-Haidari,” with a Military Science Degrees, said in a post on his personal Facebook page that the missiles used in the attack, shown in the videos published after the incident, are likely to be ballistic missiles used by the forces affiliated with the Ansar Allah movement “Houthis”. Al-Haidari suggested that the missiles were likely fired from the Taiz International Airport.

5 A picture of the “Muhammad al-Haidari” post on Facebook about the incident

A local newspaper Aden Al-Ghad shared a video on their Facebook page, that was originally published by the military media of the Ansar Allah movement “Houthis,” showing the launching of a ballistic missile. This video suggests questions about the possible involvement of the forces affiliated with the Ansar Allah movement “Houthis” in the attack on Aden airport.

6 A picture of the Aden Al-Ghad video published on Facebook

It is noteworthy that the Ansar Allah movement “Houthis” have seized the state’s missile arsenal after their armed rebellion in 2015. During the six years of the war, they have developed their missile capabilities including several long-range ballistic missiles, which were used in a number of attacks on the Saudi soil and other areas in Marib and the west coast in Yemen.

7 An archived picture published by the Ansar Allah website, showing their ballistic missile development

A screenshot taken from the Al-Arabiya TV video report, which documents the moment the second missile explosion hit the airport. A screenshot taken from the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper’s video on YouTube, showing the crater by the missile which hit Aden airport. And a screenshot taken from the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper’s video on YouTube

By analyzing the video footage from the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper on YouTube and the “Muhammad Al-Haidari” post on Facebook, we were able to determine the general direction of the missiles launch that hit the wall on the north side of the terminal building at Aden International Airport. The direction of the attack indicates that the launch site was likely from the north.

Following the allegations that the Ansar Allah group “Houthis” is responsible for the attack, there are two possibilities for the location of the missile launch. The two possible locations are the Dhamar governorate and the Taiz governorates. The areas of control in these governorates are divided between the two parties of the conflict.

Satellite images from Google Earth.

The first possibility:

The two missiles were launched from the Dhamar governorate

After searching for open source visual content that was published on the day of the attack, we found three videos showing the launch of two missiles. The videos’ sources said that the two missiles were launched from the “Dhamar Al Qarn” area, south of the city center, towards Aden.

By comparing the shape of the clouds that appeared in a number of videos published by local sources including the ”Hussein Saran” ”Hafez Mutair” and”Jaber Al-Sheikh Tribe” Facebook pages, we found and confirmed that the videos were filmed in close proximity to each other..

10 Several screenshots of posts from local sources: ”Hussein Saran”, ”Hafez Mutair”, and ”Jaber Al-Sheikh Tribe” on Facebook

A video published by a local source Hafez Mutair’s on his personal Facebook account contains geographic landmarks that are likely close to the location of the missiles’ launch point These landmarks are a number of large buildings and an asphalt road next to a small room and a plot of agricultural land as well as a building directly in front of the individual taking the video.. Yemeni Archive was able to analyze and compare these landmarks with satellite images to determine that the exact geographic location of the video is at the coordinates 14.514387, 44.409254, which is approximately 900 meters from a police training center that is located at the coordinates 14.511746, 44.416689.

11 A panoramic image from the video shared by Hafez Mutair on Facebook

12 A satellite image from Google Earth of the identified landmarks

Additional landmarks confirm the direction of the missiles’ launch, as shown in another video published by the local source Hussain Sarran on his personal Facebook account. The video was shot from a different angle, showing a curved building with another building behind it alongside a main road. These landmarks are clearly seen after creating a panoramic image of the location from the video. Yemeni Archive was able to analyze and compare these landmarks with satellite images determining the exact geographic location of the video as at the coordinates 14.538085, 44.431170, which is located about 3 km north of the police training center.

13 A Panoramic image from a video posted by Hussain Sarran and the satellite image via Google Earth

By analyzing the shadows featured in the videos posted by the local sources ”Hafez Mutair“and ”Hussain Saran“on Facebook,, Yemeni Archive using the shadow calculator tool, confirms that the videos were taken at around 13:22 Yemen local time. This matches the time the first missile hit Aden Airport.

14 A picture of the shadow analysis, using the Shadow Calculator tool, of the video published by Hafiz Mutair

15 A picture of the shadow analysis, using the shadow calculator tool, of the video published by Hussain Saran

After analyzing the visual content and landmarks that appeared in video reports we were able to determine the direction of the missiles launch as is shown below.

The first location where the video was taken (first missiles launch site)

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The second location where the video was taken (second missiles launch site)

A satellite image by Google Earth, showing the video capturing locations and the location of the training center

By approximating the time of the missiles’ launch with shadows, analyzing the angle of attack where the first missile hit the wall of the terminal building at Aden International Airport, and identifying the direction of the missiles launch that appeared in videos posted online, Yemeni Archive was able confirm that the first missile was launched from the police training center in the “Dhamar Al-Qarn” area in the Dhamar governorate, north of Aden.

19 A screenshot from the the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper’s video report on YouTube

A satellite image from Google Earth with a straight line connecting the police training center in Dhamar to the terminal building at Aden International Airport.

The third location where the video was taken (second missiles launch site)

On December 31, the “shoof maeana” YouTube channel posted a fourth video, showing the moment of missiles being fired, where the chanting of the “Houthi” slogan was clearly heard by a number of people next to the person taking the video. According to what was stated in the description under the video that the launching of the missiles was from the Al-Jund area in Taiz governorate, but our analysis of the visual evidence confirms otherwise.

We can notice that the shape of the mass of clouds in the sky matches the shape mass of clouds that appeared in the previous videos, which confirms that the video was taken from Dhamar Governorate.

21 A screenshot from the “Shoof Maeana” video on YouTube

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It is clear that the third shooting angle is slightly different from the previous one, after analyzing the visual evidence that appeared in the video, where we can identify few landmarks (A main and secondary road – several buildings – few mountains). After analyzing landmarks and matching them with the terrain view satellite images taken from Google Earth, Yemeni Archive was able to determine the location where the video was taken as at the coordinates 14.530046, 44.407487, which is located in Dhamar governorate, and about 2 km north from the police training center.

Several screenshots from the “Shoof Maeana” video on YouTube, showing the main and the secondary roads, and a number of buildings along the road. These visual evidence matches the satellite images taken from Google Earth.

24 1 A screenshot taken from a video posted by the “Shoof Maeana” YouTube channel showing a hill behind the buildings to the west of the missile launch site. The geographic landmarks match terrain view satellite images taken from Google Earth of the missile launch site.Terrain level view shows an increased elevation near the police training center.

25 A satellite image taken from Google Earth, showing the third location where the video was taken and from which the missiles were fired, and its distance from the police training center

The second possibility:

The two missiles were launched from the Taiz governorate

A local source “Ahmed Basha” published a picture on his personal Facebook page, showing a smoke trail in the air from a missile. This post potentially indicates that a missile was fired at 13:25 local time from Taiz International Airport - which is under the control of the Ansar Allah group “the Houthis” in the Al-Jund area, east of the Taiz governorate.

26 A picture published by “Ahmed Basha” on his personal Facebook account

On the same day, the local news site ”Ain Al-Yemen news ” and a local source ”Haitham Al-Shabhi” shared several videos on their Facebook pages, showing the firing of missiles into the sky.

When analyzing the videos, it can be seen that the color of the clear blue sky in Taiz Governorate matches the city’s weather forecast for December 30, 2020 from the Weather website.

Sources: A picture from the “Ahmed Basha” post on Facebook, and the videos from the ”Ain Al-Yemen news” news site and the local source ”Haitham Al-Shabhi” on Facebook.

28 A screenshot of the weather forecast for December 30, 2020 from the weather website

In the video published by Ain Al-Yemen news, additional visual evidence and landmarks can be seen near the missile’s launch site, which were some trees and iron boxes painted in red in addition to two houses and a road.

Several screenshots taken from the ”Ain Al-Yemen news” video

After analyzing the visual evidence and the landmarks from the open source content and matching them with satellite imagery from Google Earth, Yemeni Archive was able to determine the location where the video was taken as at the coordinates 13.653897, 44.136828, which is located in Mawiyah District, northeast of Taiz city.

30 A satellite image via Google Earth showing the location where the video was taken

Taiz International Airport is about 3 km away, according to a Google Earth scale, from where the video was taken.This suggests that the airport was the missile’s launch site.

31 A satellite image from Google Earth showing the distance between Taiz International Airport and the location of where the video was taken.

Additionally, analysis of the shadows shown in the Ain Al-Yemen news video, indicates that the missile launch was around 13:25 in the afternoon local time. This matches the time specified in the post on Facebook from “Ahmed Basha” which was shared two minutes before the first missile hit the airport.

32 Screenshot from the Ain Al-Yemen news video and a photo from Sun calculator analysis tool

Corroborating previous video reports, the cameraman in a video from Facebook user “Haitham Al-Shabhi” is featured in the video saying “let’s welcome the government” during the missile launch.

A third video was published on the same day by a local source “Sabri Makawush”, and was widely circulated, as it shows from a different angle the launch of two successive missiles. After analyzing the landmarks in the video, Yemeni Archive was able to determine that the approximate location where the video was taken was near Taiz International Airport.

Two main roads can be seen in the video. A white truck is seen passing after turning west. The second road appears after the launch of the second missile. This second road is the main road connecting Taiz with Sanaa. A large hangar can also be seen in the video. This appears to be one of the airport’s hangars. Later in the video, multiple white hangars and a factor are shown located to the right of the airport. These landmarks match what’s shown in the video shared by “Sabri Makawush.”

Several screenshots from the “Sabri Makoush” video which are matching the satellite images via Google Earth

The video shows from a far distance the first missile launching from the western direction of the airport and the second missile launching from the direction of Taiz International Airport, eventually landing near the area.

34 Screenshot from the “Sabry Makoush” video on Facebook.

After analysing the shadows of the tree in the video using the Sun calculator tool, Yemeni Archive was able to identify that the timing of the missile landing on Aden International Airport approximately matches and the timing of the video was shot, which was at 13:18 in the afternoon local time.

A screenshot from “Sabry McKouch” video and an image from Sun calculator analysis tool

By determining the location where the video was taken and the launch point of the missiles as well as the approximate filming time using the shadow calculator tool and comparing them to the second missile’s landing angle on the Aden International Airport runway, Yemeni Archive was able to confirm that the second missile was launched from the Ansar Allah movement “Houthis” sites around Taiz International Airport.

Screenshots sources: “Sabri Makawish” and “Haitham Al-Shabhi” videos and satellite images from Google Earth.

Satellite images from Google Earth, and a screenshot from Al-Arabiya TV video showing the moment the second missile fell

Pictures circulated on social media show the remnants of the second missile that was fired from Taiz and fell near the Al-Hashadi factory in the Al-Jund area. A local source named Fouad Ali on Facebook published several pictures of the missile’s remnants suggesting that it fell about 500 meters from its launch location. This was confirmed by eyewitnesses in the area by the local source “Muhammad Al-Sadah.”.

39 Pictures from Fouad Ali’s post on Facebook.

The distance between Aden International Airport and the Police Training Center in the Dhamar region is approximately 200 km. The distance between Aden Airport and Taiz Airport is 136 km. This suggests that the attack was carried out by medium-range ballistic missiles.

In mid-January 2021, the Minister of Interior in the new Yemeni government—Major General Ibrahim Haydan—said in a press conference, reported on by several news outlets, regarding the investigation committee of the Aden attack that the location the second missile hit was where the plane was supposed to park. Before landing, information about where the plane was supposed to park leaked causing crowds on the tarmacBut, due to the density of these crowds welcoming the government, the parking site was changed at the last minute to another location.

In the press conference, the Minister of Interior reviewed several scenes documented by surveillance cameras at the airport showing the moment the three missiles’ fell and the location hit. The committee determined the direction of the missiles’ launch, confirming that the angle of arrival matched for the first and third missiles. The committee confirmed that they were launched from the north. According to the committee, the angle of arrival of the second missile was from the northwest in areas controlled by the Houthis.

Several screenshots from a video posted by the Aden Satellite Channel on YouTube. of footage shown in the Yemeni Minister of Interior’s press conference.

In addition to the information stated by the Minister of Interior, we noticed that the angle of smoke that rose after the second missile’s explosion shifted towards the southeast. Yemeni Archive was able to confirm that the missile came from theTaiz Governorate. The angle and time of the other two missiles’ fall, mentioned in the press conference, confirms that the missiles were launched from the Dhamar Governorate, north of Aden Airport.

41 A screenshot from the Aden satellite channel video on YouTube, from the Yemeni Minister of Interior’s press conference “Ibrahim Haydan”.

Yemeni Archive and Bellingcat teams were unable to identify which munition this missile fragment originated from as an examination of both Houthi and Iranian missiles did not produce any clear match. This is common as Houthi missiles are often unalike because they are made from any available material, such as oil pipes. Nevertheless, the size of the fragment and the presence of control-canards suggests that the munition was a relatively large guided missile.

Screenshots from the “AlHadath TV”, “Russia Today” TV, and the “Albaud4” news site YouTube channel that show remnants of the munition used in the attack

The victims

The attack had a severe impact on civilians as it resulted in the death and injury of those gathered on the tarmac beside the plane to welcome the new cabinet. Among the victims were government officials and media workers. According to the Yemeni News Agency Saba, the attack killed 22 people and injured 50 others.

The day after the incident, many of the wounded died from their injuries. In the press conference, the Yemeni Minister of Interior indicated that 17 people were killed and more than 120 others injured.

Two International Committee of the Red Cross workers, a journalist working with the Yemeni Balqees TV, and three government officials were among those killed in the attack.

43 A picture of the ICRC Twitter tweet mourning the death of its staff in the attack

44 A tweet by “Balqees” satellite channel on Twitter mourning the killing of one of its employees

Journalist “Salim Al-Maamari,” a colleague of the journalist “Adeeb Al-Janani” at Belqis Channel who was killed in the attack at Aden airport, told Yemeni Archive that shrapnel from the second missile at the airport punctured Adeeb’s body and killed him immediately. Adeeb was hit during an interview on the Belqis channel at 13:00 in the afternoon local time.

Salim described to Yemeni Archive the moment of the attack: “I was near my colleague Adeeb Al-Janani when the airport was targeted, where the missile fell near us at a distance of no more than 20 meters. My fellow journalists and a number of civilians were injured as a result of the targeting. The bombing was surprising and we did not expect that the airport would be targeted, especially while this number of people were present. Civilians, journalists and media professionals. The death of our colleague Adeeb left us in deep sadness. We are living in a severe psychological state of the trauma of losing Adeeb. I cannot believe that we were working together yesterday and today I mourn him”.

45 A picture obtained by the Yemeni Archive from “Salim Al-Maamari” showing a list of media professionals which were giving the permit to enter the airport

46 Al-Masdar Online tweet about the death of a government official

Different positions on the attack

The Minister of Information of the Yemeni government, Muammar Al-Iryani, and the Ministry of Interior, accused the Ansar Allah movement “Houthis” for carrying out the attack that targeted Aden airport.

47 A picture of “Muammar Al-Iryani’s”, the Minister of Information of the Yemeni government, tweet

On December 31, 2020 in a press statement from the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Yemen, Antonio Guterres extended his profound condolences to the families of the victims as well as to the people and Government of Yemen.

“The Secretary-General condemns the deplorable attack on Aden airport shortly after the arrival of the newly formed Yemeni cabinet, which killed and wounded dozens of people. He extends his profound condolences to the families of the victims as well as to the people and Government of Yemen. He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.”

“The Secretary-General reaffirms the steadfast commitment of the United Nations to support efforts to resume a Yemeni-led and Yemeni-owned political process to reach an inclusive, negotiated settlement to the conflict.”

At the time of writing this investigation, no official comment was issued by Ansar Allah movement “Houthis”, on the attack that targeted Aden airport.

Conclusion

After collecting and analyzing images and visual evidence that were published on social media and news networks, Yemeni Archive verified that Aden International Airport was targeted at approximately between 13:24 - 13:25 local time on December 30, 2020.

According to the evidence and the sources analyzed, the airport was targeted by three missiles, one of which hit the front structure of the terminal building. The attack killed 17 people and injured over 120 others, most of them civilians who were at the airport gathered on the tarmac beside the plane to welcome the new cabinet. Although Yemeni Archive did not find any evidence in the open source content of weapon and ammunition remnants used in the attack, the analysis suggests that the “Houthi” group Ansar Allah, was responsible for the attack that was carried out from both the “Dhamar Al-Qarn” area in the Dhamar governorate which is under the Ansar Allah, the “Houthi” group control, and from “Houthi” group locations around the Taiz Airport in the northeast of the governorate.

These findings were made by an investigative collaboration between Yemeni Archive and Bellingcat. Special thanks to the journalist Abdullah Al-Mamre.

The Yemeni Archive is fully independent and accepts no money from governments directly involved in the Yemeni conflict. We are seeking individual donations to carry out our work. Please consider supporting our work through our Patreon page.

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