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UAE has promised to respond after drone attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels


A suspected drone attack in the United Arab Emirates today has killed three people and injured six others. Houthi rebels far away in Yemen appear to have claimed credit for the attack. The UAE has promised to strike back. NPR's Ruth Sherlock has the latest.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: The UAE says the drone attack set fire to three tanker trucks at an oil storage facility and damaged a new extension of Abu Dhabi International Airport. The Houthis seem to claim responsibility for their role, saying they launched a military operation, quote, "deep in the UAE," but didn't provide more details.

Taimur Khan, the head of operations in the Gulf for the Britain-based Conflict Armament Research Group, says the Houthis, once a lightly armed militia, do now have unmanned aerial vehicles - UAVs - that can travel these distances.

TAIMUR KHAN: We certainly know that the Houthis have in their UAV arsenal models or systems that have ranges that would include Abu Dhabi, so ranges up to around 1,200 or 1,500 kilometers.

SHERLOCK: The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia and other allies, are fighting the Houthis. The Houthis are backed by Iran in a civil war in Yemen that has killed some 130,000 people, many of them civilians, and worsened hunger and famine in the country. The Houthis frequently hit airports and oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen, with missiles and drones laden with bombs. But they rarely target UAE soil.

This apparent attack comes as Houthis lose ground in a key fight in Yemen's civil war. Khan says their losses in the oil-rich provinces of Shabwa and Marib are largely the result of the UAE's intervention in favor of forces supported by Saudi Arabia.

KHAN: As of last week, these UAE-backed forces were able to push the Houthis out of Behan in Shabwa, which was a key supply line for the Houthi offensive in Marib.

SHERLOCK: The UAE had scaled back its military presence in Yemen a few years ago but still operates through Yemeni forces it armed and trained in the south.

MAGED AL-MADHAJI: (Speaking Arabic).

SHERLOCK: Maged Al-Madhaji, the executive director and co-founder of the Sana'a Center For Strategic Studies Yemeni think tank, says this recent Houthi offensive had threatened UAE interests.

AL-MADHAJI: (Speaking Arabic).

SHERLOCK: And now, he says, these attacks in the UAE threaten the reputation for stability and security that the Emirates prides itself on. The UAE's Foreign Ministry has vowed that the attacks would, quote, "not go unpunished." U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan condemned the attack and said the U.S. would help hold the Houthis accountable.

Ruth Sherlock, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.