Saudi Fighter Jet Crashes In Yemen As Rebels Take Responsibility

PICTURE USED TO ILLUSTRATE STORY: A Singapore Air Force F-15SG fighter jet participates in an aerial display at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on February 13, 2020. ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP
PICTURE USED TO ILLUSTRATE STORY: A Singapore Air Force F-15SG fighter jet participates in an aerial display at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on February 13, 2020.
ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP

 

A Saudi fighter jet crashed in conflict-torn Yemen, the Riyadh-led military coalition supporting the government announced Saturday, as the Iran-backed Huthi rebels said they downed the plane.

The Tornado aircraft came down on Friday in northern Al-Jawf province during an operation to assist Yemeni government forces, the coalition said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

It did not specify the fate of the crew or the cause of the crash.

The Huthis’ Al-Masirah television said the jet was downed by the rebels using an “advanced surface-to-air missile”.

The insurgents reported multiple coalition air strikes on Saturday in the Huthi-controlled area where the plane went down as local residents gathered near the wreckage, according to Al-Masirah.

The bombing raids left “dozens” of people dead or wounded, Al-Masirah added, a claim that could not be immediately verified by local aid workers.

The coalition intervened against the Huthis in 2015, first with air and naval forces and later with ground forces as well.

The fighting has killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, and sparked what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The coalition has been widely criticised for the high civilian death toll from its bombing campaign, which has prompted some Western governments to cut arms deliveries to the countries taking part.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have purchased billions of dollars’ worth of weapons from the United States, France and Britain.

On Wednesday, the coalition said it would put on trial military personnel suspected of being behind deadly air strikes on Yemeni civilians.

The cases being investigated include a 2018 air strike on a school bus in the northern region of Dahyan that killed at least 40 children, Saudi-based Arab News said.

 

AFP

Saudi Sentences To Death Yemeni Attacker On Spanish Performers

 

 

A Saudi criminal court sentenced a Yemeni man to death Sunday for a knife attack on a Spanish theatre group performing in Riyadh last month, state television said.

The court also sentenced an accomplice to 12 years and six months in jail for the November 11 attack which Riyadh has linked to militant group Al-Qaeda, and which Madrid said left four performers wounded.

“The criminal court issues a preliminary ruling handing the death sentence to the perpetrator of the terrorist attack… in Riyadh,” the official Al-Ekhbariya television reported.

The assailant, identified by Saudi police as a 33-year-old Yemeni, went on a stabbing spree during a live musical in the capital’s King Abdullah Park, one of the venues hosting the two-month “Riyadh Season” entertainment festival.

Last week, Al-Ekhbariya said the attacker took orders from an Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, but so far there has been no claim of responsibility from the group.

Al-Ekhbariya did not offer any details on his alleged accomplice.

Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition supporting the Yemeni government against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels and has also been involved in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is active in Yemen, is considered by the United States as the radical group’s most dangerous branch.

Observers also point at burbling resentment among arch-conservatives in the kingdom over the multi-billion dollar entertainment push.

The Riyadh Season festival is part of a broad government push to open up the kingdom to tourists and diversify its economy away from oil.

De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pursued sweeping social reforms that mark the biggest cultural shakeup in the kingdom’s modern history, allowing mixed-gender concerts and the reopening of cinemas.

Although the reforms are wildly popular among Saudi Arabia’s mainly young population, they risk angering religious hardliners in the deeply conservative nation.

US Welcomes Saudi Khashoggi Verdicts As ‘Important Step’ – Official

In this file photo taken on December 15, 2014, general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama. MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH / AFP

 

 

The United States on Monday welcomed death sentences issued by Saudi Arabia against five people over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Today’s verdicts were an important step in holding those responsible for this terrible crime accountable,” a State Department official told reporters after the ruling, which was lambasted as a travesty by Turkey, rights groups, and The Washington Post, to which Khashoggi contributed.

The court, however, exonerated two top aides to Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom the United States Senate considers responsible for Khashoggi’s murder in October last year at Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul.

The United States “encouraged Saudi Arabia to undertake a fair and transparent judicial process,” the official added.

“We’re pressing them for more transparency and for holding everybody accountable.”

Riyadh has described the murder as a “rogue” operation, but both the CIA and a United Nations special envoy have directly linked Prince Mohammed to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies.

The government of US President Donald Trump has been careful to not attribute such blame to the prince, giving priority to maintaining good relations with the kingdom which is a major arms buyer and ally against Iran.

No Evidence Iran Attacked Saudi Oil Facility, Says President Rouhani

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in New York on September 26, 2019. Rouhani challenged countries who accused Iran of carrying out this month’s attack on a Saudia Arabian oil facility to provide evidence. Kena Betancur / AFP

 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani challenged countries who accused Iran of carrying out this month’s attack on a Saudia Arabian oil facility to provide evidence.

“Those who make the allegations must provide the needed proof. What is your evidence?” he told reporters in New York, a day after addressing the UN General Assembly.

The United States, France, Germany and Britain have all blamed Iran for the strikes on the kingdom’s Abqaiq plant and the Khurais oil field which knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production.

AFP

Saudi Oil Attacks An Iranian ‘Act Of War’, Says Pompeo

 

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced strikes on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure as an “act of war” on Wednesday, as Riyadh unveiled new evidence it said showed the assault was “unquestionably” sponsored by arch-foe Iran.

The comments raise the risk of a wider conflict in the tinderbox Gulf region after the weekend strikes on the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry knocked out half its production, rattling energy markets.

“This was an Iranian attack,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane before landing in the western city of Jeddah, calling it “an act of war”.

“This is an attack of a scale we’ve just not seen before.”

His comment came as Saudi Arabia displayed what it said were fragments of 25 drones and cruise missiles fired at two facilities in the country’s east, engulfing them in flames.

“The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran,” defence ministry spokesman Turki al-Maliki said.

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Tehran-linked Huthi rebels in the kingdom’s southern neighbour Yemen have claimed responsibility, but both Washington and Riyadh have ruled that out.

“We are working to know the exact launch point,” Maliki said.

But he would not be drawn on whether Saudi officials believed Iran would ultimately be found to be the culprit.

Pompeo said there was no evidence for media reports the attacks had been launched from Iraq — caught between its two main sponsors, Tehran and Washington.

Diplomats at the United Nations said experts were expected in the kingdom to lead an international inquiry.

Pompeo met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah to discuss a response to the strike, which took out six percent of global supplies.

Meanwhile, the Huthis threatened to hit “dozens of targets” in the United Arab Emirates, part of a Saudi-led coalition against the rebels.

‘We don’t want war’

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the administration has concluded the attack involved cruise missiles from Iran, and said evidence would be presented at the UN General Assembly next week.

Vice President Mike Pence reiterated President Donald Trump’s comments that “we don’t want war with anybody, but the United States is prepared.”

Trump, who has already re-imposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy, promised on Wednesday to “substantially increase” the measures, winning quick praise from Riyadh.

He said details would be given within 48 hours.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, himself under US sanctions since July 31, described the measures as “illegal” and “inhuman”.

Trump’s move was an “admission that (the) US is DELIBERATELY targeting ordinary citizens,” he said on Twitter.

The apparent hardening of the US position came as Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out negotiations with Washington “at any level”.

That appeared to nix hopes for a dramatic meeting between Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations next week.

Late Wednesday, the United States still had not issued Rouhani and his delegation with visas to attend the meeting in New York, Iranian state media said.

Maliki said Saturday’s attack did not originate from Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is locked in a prolonged conflict with the Huthis, “despite Iran’s efforts to make it appear so”.

He said the strike was beyond the capabilities of the militia — who have however mounted dozens of smaller attacks on Saudi territory.

“The precision impact of the cruise missile” indicated advanced capabilities beyond those of the Huthis, he added.

Oil prices rocked

Observers say the Saudi experience in Yemen, where despite their vast firepower they have failed to subdue the ragtag but highly motivated militia, has made Riyadh circumspect about wading into another conflict.

“I certainly hope we’re not” going to have a war, Riyadh’s ambassador to London Prince Khalid bin Bandar told the BBC.

“We are trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.”

Iran has backed Huthi claims of being behind the attack, and Rouhani said Wednesday it was a rebel “warning” about a possible wider war in response to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.

State media said Tehran had written to Washington through the Swiss embassy on Monday, denying any role in attacks on Saudi installations and warning it would respond to any action against it.

Trump’s administration is considering responses including a cyber attack or a physical strike on Iranian oil infrastructure or its Revolutionary Guards, NBC News reported, citing unnamed US officials.

Oil prices have see-sawed since the attacks, with record gains Monday followed by a tumble Tuesday as the Saudi assurances on supplies soothed the markets.

Trump Says Almost Sure Iran Behind Saudi Attacks

US President Donald Trump

 

US President Donald Trump declared Monday that Tehran was likely behind strikes on Saudi oil facilities, but that he wanted to be sure and he hoped to “avoid” war.

“It is certainly looking that way at this moment,” he told reporters when asked if he believes Iran carried out the attack.

Trump said “we pretty much already know” but that Washington still wanted more proof. “We want to find definitively who did this.”

“With all that being said, we’d certainly like to avoid” war, he said. “I don’t want war with anybody but we’re prepared more than anybody.”

 

Weapons Used In Saudi Attacks ‘Came From Iran’ – Coalition

 

The weapons used to strike Saudi oil facilities were Iranian-made, the Riyadh-led coalition said Monday, heightening fears of regional conflict after the US hinted at a military response to the assault.

The weekend strikes on Abqaiq –- the world’s largest oil processing facility –- and the Khurais oil field in eastern Saudi Arabia have roiled global energy markets with prices spiking Monday to record highs.

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Huthi rebels claimed responsibility for the strikes but Washington has squarely blamed Iran, with President Donald Trump saying the US is “locked and loaded” to respond.

Saudi’s energy infrastructure has been hit before, but this strike was of a different order, abruptly halting 5.7 million Barrels Per Day (BPD) or about six per cent of the world’s oil supply.

The Saudi-led coalition, which is bogged down in a five-year war in neighbouring Yemen, reiterated the assessment that the Huthis were not behind it, pointing the finger at Iran for providing the weapons.

Russia urged “all countries to avoid hasty steps or conclusions that could exacerbate the situation” while the European Union stressed all sides should show “maximum restraint”.

China also called on the US and Iran to “exercise restraint… in the absence of a conclusive investigation or verdict.”

“All indications are that weapons used in both attacks came from Iran,” coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told reporters in Riyadh, adding they were now probing “from where they were fired”.

“This strike didn’t come from Yemen territory as the Huthi militia are pretending,” Maliki said, adding an investigation had been opened.

He labelled the Huthis “a tool in the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the terrorist regime of Iran”.

The rebels said they fired 10 drones at the Saudi infrastructure, but the New York Times reported that US officials had satellite images showing the attacks — possibly with drones and cruise missiles — had come from the north or northwest.

That indicated they were sourced in the northern Persian Gulf, Iran or Iraq, rather than Yemen.

‘Unprecedented Attack’

The assault on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, which engulfed the facilities in flames, has been condemned by Washington as an “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply”.

Oil prices saw their biggest daily gain since the 1991 Gulf War on Monday after the attacks halved output in the world’s top crude exporter, fuelling fresh geopolitical and growth fears.

Europe’s benchmark Brent crude surged by 20 percent and US counterpart WTI by 15 per cent as commodities trading got underway.

Both contracts later came off their peaks, but were still up more than 10 percent on the day by the mid-afternoon in Europe.

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry insisted world oil markets still had sizeable reserves saying the market has “a fairly substantial amount of oil out there available”.

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman on Sunday said the kingdom would use its vast inventories to partially compensate for the lost production, and the US also authorised the release of its reserves.

“Growing tensions in the Middle East are another headwind for the global economy in already uncertain times, and a full-blown conflict could trigger another leg in the global downturn,” said Jennifer McKeown, head of Global Economics at Capital Economics.

With the Huthis threatening further attacks, analyst Oanda senior market analyst Craig Erlam noted Saturday’s events had “highlighted the vulnerability of security at these facilities to drone attacks”.

The kingdom also has a spare capacity of around two million BPD that it can draw on at times of crisis.

But a prolonged production delay could potentially see prices climb to “triple digits”, warned Saudi economic consultant Sulaiman al-Assaf.

IPO in Trouble?

The attack is a major test for Saudi Arabia as it could dampen investor confidence in Aramco’s upcoming two-stage initial public offering (IPO), a mammoth listing that the government hopes will generate up to $100 billion.

Saudi authorities are considering whether to delay an IPO for the oil giant, people with knowledge of the matter said.

“They’re in the process of assessing the damage. It’s a possibility but it’s still very early,” said one of the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The IPO, earlier scheduled for 2018, has already been mired in delays as it reportedly struggled to reach a $2 trillion valuation desired by Saudi rulers.

Saudi authorities have sought to calm jittery markets, with the Energy Intelligence specialist newsletter citing industry sources as saying Aramco was “close to restoring as much as 40 percent” of the lost production, or about 2.3 million barrels per day (BPD).

The Wall Street Journal cited people familiar with the damage estimates as saying the targeted facilities would take weeks to return to full production capacity.

The real extent of the damage at the facilities, however, remains unclear.

All eyes are on official word from the Saudis on the situation, which could offer reassurance to world markets.

EU Urges ‘Maximum Restraint’ Over Attacks On Saudi Oil Facilities

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union on Monday stressed its call for “maximum restraint” following weekend attacks on key Saudi oil facilities that have triggered bellicose words from the US, which blamed Iran.

EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told journalists: “We see them (the attacks) as a real threat to regional security, and at a time that tensions in the region are running very high this attack undermines ongoing work at de-escalation and dialogue.”

Trump Condemns Drone Attacks In Call With Saudi Crown Prince

Trump To Hit China With $300bn Punitive Tariffs In Goods

 

US President Donald Trump on Saturday condemned drone attacks at two Saudi Aramco oil facilities that reportedly disrupted production and marked a new escalation in regional tensions with Iran.

“The United States strongly condemns today’s attack on critical energy infrastructure. Violent actions against civilian areas and infrastructure vital to the global economy only deepen conflict and mistrust,” the White House said in a statement following a phone call between Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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Trump offered Prince Mohammed “his support for Saudi Arabia’s self-defense,” the White House said, following an earlier statement from Riyadh saying the crown prince told Trump the kingdom was “”willing and able” to respond to the attacks blamed on Yemeni rebels.

“The United States Government is monitoring the situation and remains committed to ensuring global oil markets are stable and well supplied,” the US statement said.

 

UN Concerned About Rising US-Iran Tensions

 

 

The United Nations voiced concern on Monday about increasingly bellicose rhetoric between the United States and Iran and called on them to dial down their remarks.

The appeal came after President Donald Trump on Sunday warned that any attack from Iran would be met with a devastating US response that would mean “the official end of Iran.”

“We are concerned about the rising rhetoric,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who cited the firing of a rocket on Sunday, which struck a Baghdad area that houses foreign embassies including that of the US, as being “also a concern.”

“We would ask all parties to lower the rhetoric and lower the threshold of action as well,” said the spokesman.

UN officials are holding contacts with the US and Iran at various levels to try to calm the situation, said Dujarric, but he did not provide details of those talks.

Relations between Washington and Tehran plummeted a year ago when Trump pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and imposed tough sanctions.

READ ALSO: US Has Not Reached Out To Iran For Talks – Trump

Tensions have risen this month after Washington announced more economic measures against Tehran, then deployed a carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Gulf over alleged Iranian “threats.”

The Trump administration last week ordered non-essential diplomatic staff out of Iraq, citing the danger posed by Iranian-backed Iraqi armed groups.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Trump’s tweet on Monday, describing it as “genocidal taunts” and adding: “Never threaten an Iranian. Try respect — it works!”

Iranian Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi appealed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council to take steps to prevent the crisis from spiralling out of control.

“Inaction – a lose-lose approach – is not an option and can lead to a disaster that must be avoided,” wrote the ambassador in a letter sent on Friday.

The Security Council has not discussed the rising tensions even though its purpose is to address threats to international peace and security.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Russia may decide “at a certain point” to raise US-Iran tensions at the council “because the situation is very worrisome.”

“The language is bellicose, especially on this side of the Atlantic Ocean,” Nebenzia told reporters.

The Russian ambassador renewed a call for the creation of a “security architecture” for the Gulf region to allow for talks on regional issues.

AFP

Saudi Faces Rising Criticism After Mass Execution

Medina, Qatif, Saudi Arabia

 

Saudi Arabia faced worldwide criticism Wednesday for its mass execution of a group made up mostly of people from the kingdom’s Shiite Muslim minority, some of whom the UN said were minors when charged.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned Riyadh’s Tuesday execution of 37 Saudi nationals, saying “it was particularly abhorrent that at least three of those killed were minors at the time of their sentencing”.

The EU echoed her censure, calling the execution of people charged as minors a “serious violation”.

READ ALSO: US Denies Having Advance Intelligence On Sri Lanka Attacks

Spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the fact that the majority of those executed were Shiites had “the potential to fuel sectarian tensions”.

They were put to death after being convicted of terrorism, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, in the largest mass execution in the country for more than three years.

At least 33 of those executed belonged to Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority, according to Human Rights Watch.

The rights group said the convictions were based on “unfair” mass trials and on confessions allegedly extracted through torture.

The Sunni-dominated kingdom’s interior ministry said some of those executed were accused of “inciting sectarian strife”, a charge often used in Saudi Arabia against Shiite activists.

One person was crucified after being killed, SPA reported, a measure reserved for particularly serious crimes in the ultra-conservative oil-rich kingdom, where executions are usually carried out by beheading.

 ‘Tool to crush dissent’ 

“Saudi authorities will inevitably characterise those executed as terrorists… but the reality is that Saudi courts are largely devoid of any due process, and many of those executed were condemned based solely on confessions they credibly say were coerced,” said HRW’s deputy Middle East director Michael Page.

“Executing prisoners en masse shows that the current Saudi leadership has little interest in improving the country’s dismal human rights record.”

Rights group Amnesty International said most of those executed were “convicted after sham trials” based on “confessions extracted through torture”.

The executions were “yet another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent” from within the Shiite minority, it added in a statement.

The rights watchdog said 11 of those executed were convicted of spying for Iran, while at least 14 others were sentenced in connection with anti-government protests in the Eastern Province between 2011 and 2012.

Among those executed was Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, who was only 16 at the time of his arrest, Amnesty said.

‘Not a whisper’ from the US 

The mass execution is the largest since January 2016, when Saudi Arabia executed a group of 47 people convicted of “terrorism”, including prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

The cleric’s execution prompted a furious reaction from Tehran.

Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran were attacked in violent demonstrations, prompting Riyadh to sever relations.

Iran’s top diplomat Wednesday slammed the silence of US President Donald Trump’s administration on the executions.

“After a wink at the dismembering of a journalist, not a whisper from the Trump administration when Saudi Arabia beheads 37 men in one day — even crucifying one two days after Easter,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.

He was referring to the murder of prominent Saudi journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi last year in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hezbollah, a key ally of Tehran, accused the United States of being “a key partner” in Saudi Arabia’s “heinous crimes”.

“Hezbollah strongly condemns the heinous crime committed by the criminal Saudi regime against dozens of innocent civilians, whose only fault was to demand freedom and freedom of expression,” Hezbollah said in a statement.

At least 100 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the start of the year, according to data released by SPA.

Last year, Saudi Arabia carried out 149 death sentences, making it one of the world’s top three executioners along with China and Iran, according to Amnesty.

The Eastern Province — home to the bulk of the country’s Shiite minority — has seen bouts of unrest since 2011 when protesters emboldened by the Arab Spring took to the streets demanding an end to alleged discrimination by the government.

Although no official figures exist, Shiites make up an estimated 10-15 per cent of the ultra-conservative kingdom’s population of 32 million.

AFP

Four Killed As Gunmen Attack Saudi Security Forces

Medina, Qatif, Saudi Arabia

 

Four men were killed Sunday as they attacked a Saudi security services base in a town north of Riyadh, pro-government media reported.

The attack targeted state security forces in the town of Zulfi, 260 kilometres (160 miles) north of the capital, London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat reported.

It said the attackers had rammed a vehicle into a security barrier around the base in an attempt to gain entry.

READ ALSO: Sri Lanka Imposes Curfew After Deadly Attacks

Two gunmen then stepped out of the vehicle and opened fire, sparking a gun battle with police, who killed them, the paper reported. A third attempted to flee but was also gunned down, while a fourth died as he tried to set off an explosive belt.

It did not mention any casualties among security personnel.

The Saudi-owned satellite channel Al-Arabiya also reported four people died during an attack, but did not give details.

On April 7, two men armed with explosives were killed and two others arrested as they attacked a security checkpoint in a predominantly Shiite region in eastern Saudi Arabia, which has seen years of demonstrations against the Sunni royal family.

Sunday’s attack took place in a majority Sunni region.

An estimated 10-15 per cent of the ultra-conservative kingdom’s 32 million population is Shiite, although no official figures exist.

AFP