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Houthis claim drone attack on Saudi Aramco oil refinery

Yemeni movement says it hit Jazan facility and an airport in neighbouring Asir province with 'Qasef-1' drones
A Houthi Qasef-1 model drone, as used against Aramco target in Jazan (screengrab)

Yemen's Houthi movement said on Wednesday it had launched a drone strike on a facility owned by oil giant Saudi Aramco in southern Saudi Arabia - though the company said its sites there were operating "normally and safely".

The Houthi-aligned al-Masirah TV channel said the movement's "air force announced the execution of air strikes with the Qasef-1 aircraft on Aramco in Jazan," referring to a drone the Houthis unveiled last year.

Saudi Aramco operates a large refinery in Jazan. The Houthis did not say when the attack took place or give details of any damage.

The Masirah channel said the Houthis had also launched an attack with the same model of drone on the airport of Abha in neighbouring Asir province.

According to a 2017 report by Conflict Armament Research, the Qasef-1 is "consistent with descriptions and imagery" of an Iranian drone, the Ababil-T.

Qasefs do not carry missiles but have previously be used as a "suicide drones" to target Saudi air defences in Yemen, the research group said.

But the latest use inside Saudi territory appears to have widened Houthi tactics, and comes only weeks after Houthi forces fired several ballistic missiles at Riyadh, killing one civilian.

The Houthi's released a graphic on the Qasef's capabilities last year (screengrab)

Conflict Armament Research said the Qasef "not only shares a near-identical design with the Ababil-T," the report says, "but also features identical serial number prefixes".

Al-Masdar, a Lebanese Hezbollah-aligned website, last year reported on four varieties of domestically produced Houthi drones, including the Qasef.

It stated the Qasef has a wingspan of 2.5m, is three metres long, has a maximum flight time of two hours and a range of 150km.

According to a graphic provided by the Houthis, the Qasef can carry a 30kg warhead.

Saudi Arabia and a coalition of mostly Gulf Arab states intervened in Yemen's civil war in 2015 to try and push back the Houthis after the movement drove the internationally recognised government into Saudi exile.

The Jazan refinery in southern Saudi Arabia

The coalition has launched thousands of air strikes which have hit schools, markets and hospitals, killing hundreds of people - though it says it does not target civilians.

The Houthis have stepped up ballistic missile attacks on the kingdom in what it says is retaliation for the air raids.

They have frequently claimed attacks, including on Aramco facilities, that Saudi Arabia and its main ally the United Arab Emirates have either said did not happen or were intercepted.

The coalition accuses the Houthis of being armed and supported by Iran - charges the group and Tehran deny.