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ConflictsSaudi Arabia

Saudi oil facility attacked by Yemen Houthi rebels

March 25, 2022

Yemen's Houthi rebels said they carried out several attacks on Friday, the largest being on an oil storage and shipping facility in Jiddah. Sunday's F1 Grand Prix there will go ahead as scheduled, organizers said.

A massive column of black smoke billows over the Saudi Arabian city of Jiddah
The attack on an Aramco oil storage and shipping facility filled the skies over Jiddah black with soot Image: Hassan Ammar/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Yemen's Houthi rebels on Friday attacked several targets in Saudi Arabia, including a Saudi Aramco oil storage and shipping facility in the coastal city of Jiddah.

"We did several attacks with drones and ballistic missiles," including an "Aramco installation in Jiddah [and] vital installations in Riyadh," the rebels said in a statement.

The Jiddah facility, which was previously attacked last Sunday, was struck by missiles before two storage tanks caught fire, sending huge plumes of smoke into the air. No casualties were reported.

Saudi Arabian state television told viewers that a "hostile operation" had targeted the Jiddah facility.

The US State Department condemned the attacks as "unacceptable," saying Washington would continue to help Saudi Arabia bolster its defenses.

Houthi 'government': War won't stop until Saudis quit Yemen

Saudi-led coalition begins military operation 

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen launched a military operation on Saturday to stop the attacks, according to Saudi state media.

The coalition said it was carrying out airstrikes in the Houthi-controlled Sanaa and the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, aiming to "protect global energy sources and ensure supply chains." The operation would continue until it achieves its goals, it said. 

While the operation was in its early stages, the coalition said Houthis should bear the consequences of their "hostile behavior."

Earlier, the coalition was quoted as saying it would "directly deal with sources of threat," urging civilians to stay away from any oil site or the Hodeidah facility.

Attacks target main Formula 1 sponsor at hometown race

The Red Sea city of Jiddah is also the site of Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia. The country's Corniche Circuit is located just 11 kilometers (7 miles) from the storage facility.

Saudi Aramco is a major F1 sponsor, having opened its coffers to help lure race organizers to the kingdom. The state-run oil firm's 10-year deal, struck in 2019, is estimated to be worth between €535 and €800 million ($588-$880 million). Aramco is also the main sponsor of Aston-Martin racing.

The attacks occurred during a training session for the race, even causing reigning champion Max Verstappen to radio in to his crew: "I can smell burning ... is it my car?"

After a short delay in which race organizers conferred, training resumed.

"We are aware of the attack on the Aramco distribution station in Jiddah earlier this afternoon," said race promoter Saudi Motorsport Company in a statement. "Race organizers remain in direct contact with the Saudi security authorities, as well as F1 and [governing body] FIA to ensure all necessary security and safety measures continue to be implemented. The race weekend schedule will continue as planned."

The statement said organizers looked forward to welcoming fans for a weekend of "premium racing and entertainment."

McLaren Team Principle Andreas Seidl said participants had to trust organizers. Still, he added, "it is a very unsettling situation for all of us."

Formel 1 Großer Preis von Saudi-Arabien | Kronprinz Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud und Stefano Domenicali
F1 CEO Domenicali (r) defended his organization's business relations with with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Image: Hasan Bratic/picture alliance

F1 sells presence as shining light on unpleasant issues

Formula 1 is no stranger to controversy, and has often been criticized for working with authoritarian governments.

When asked about the fact that recently Saudi Arabia — whose young crown prince stands accused of ordering the grisly 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — publicly executed 81 people on one day, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali attempted to deflect criticism by saying, "The fact that we are here shines a light on issues that would otherwise appear in a different part of the news."

The Jiddah attacks are part of a larger seven-year war in Yemen. The conflict between the Iran-backed Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition is the source of one of the world's largest current humanitarian crises.

Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in 2015 to support the country's internationally recognized government after rebels took the capital Sanaa in 2014.

The United Nations in late 2021 said that as many as 5 million Yemenis face starvation, and some 4 million have been displaced as a result of the war.

Baking bread during Yemen's humanitarian crisis

js/sri (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)