The investigation using open source data concluded it was likely a propaganda campaign
Bellingcat report finds no evidence to support Houthi claims of UAE airport attacks
A report by investigative website Bellingcat has concluded that there is no evidence to support Houthi claims that they carried out drone attacks on Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports.
The investigation suggests instead that the alleged strikes were falsely reported to forward the rebel-group’s ongoing propaganda campaign, using a series of infographics, pictures and statements by Houthi leaders that are not based on actual events.
This, says Bellingcat contributor and author of the report Khalil Dewan, is a major strategy by the Houthis to try to instil fear into the Arab coalition supporting the Yemen government in its war against the Iran-backed group in Yemen. “Their primary method [of propaganda] is to claim they have the capability to strike,” the coalition Mr Dewan told The National.
The attacks in question were reported in July and August this year following Houthi claims they had targeted Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports with Sammad-3 drones. On both occasions, the UAE denied the reports and pointed out that flight continued to operate unaffected.
On July 26 Abu Dhabi airport denied an attack had taken place, tweeting instead that an incident involving a supply vehicle had impacted the service of a small number of operations.
On August 27, The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority also “denied Houthi media claims on the Dubai International Airport, affirming that the UAE air traffic operates business as usual,” the authority said in a statement.
Passengers in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai airport said there were no disruptions, sharing videos on social media from within a seemingly calm building. The investigation pointed out that while Dubai is listed as the world’s third busiest airport, yet no mobile-captured evidence was uploaded that day. This, says the report, suggests the attack did not take place.
“The disruption that occurred and the scale of it would not suggest that a lethal attack occurred”, said Mr Dewan. Regardless, at an airport such as AUH or DBX, passengers would have captured some sort of video or image on their smartphones and uploaded on social media sites or open network. This simply didn't happen and undermines the Houthi group's claims.
A commander in the Yemeni army who spoke on condition of anonymity also debunked Houthi allegations. “The claims are lies,” the commander told The National on Thursday. “The UAE owns one of the most modern air defence systems, which can detect any attack very early.”
But a colourful graphic on the Houthi Telegram channel would have the public believe otherwise.
The group’s carefully-labelled charts list their alleged guided air force operations between December 2017 and July 2018, as well as the type of drones employed.
“Today we possess advanced and guided aircraft that we have tested,” reads the graphic. “These crossed the Saudi air zones, reached remote regions and are today observing and surveying several fronts.”
While there is no visual evidence of the alleged airport attacks, Houthi drones have entered neighbouring Saudi Arabia airspace, suggesting the group has some capabilities. In April this year, the Kingdom’s air defence systems downed two Houthi drones in the country’s southwest.
This incident shows that “at the very least, the Houthis do possess enough drone capability to enter Saudi Arabia”. However, said Mr Dewan, it’s unlikely the drones carried out strikes.
While the Houthis claim they possess five different unmanned craft, the Hudhuh-1, Qasef-1, Raqeeb, Rased and the Sammad, Mr Dewan says he has only seen two being used in operations – “Whether they have five is still to be seen.”
However, he added, these aircraft resemble Iranian drones. According to a report by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), the Qasef-1 is not indigenously designed or constructed. Instead, it appears to be a type within the Ababil-II family of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), produced by Iran’s Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company.
According to the CAR report, the use of drones illustrates the Houthis’ ability to employ low-cost technology against the Arab coalition’s “sophisticated military assets” while the acquisition of Iranian-designed Qasef-1 drones supports allegations by the UAE and Saudi Arabia that Iran is bolstering the capacity of the rebel group in Yemen.
As the Houthis’ weapons capability continues to grow with the reported help of Tehran, warring sides must take the rebel group’s threats seriously, concludes the Bellingcat report. Especially as the sophistication of potential asymmetric attacks increases “amid an ongoing conflict that’s currently at a stalemate”.