Yemeni rebels attacked a Saudi Aramco oil facility setting off a huge fire visible and smelt from Jeddah’s Formula 1 track as part of a wave of attacks on Friday report Agence France Press.
“We did several attacks with drones and ballistic missiles,” the Iran-backed Huthi rebels said in a statement, including an “Aramco installation in Jeddah (and) vital installations in Riyadh”.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-backed rebels confirmed the attack, which comes ahead of the seventh anniversary of its military intervention in the brutal civil war in Yemen.
Smoke billowed near Jeddah’s F1 track as drivers took part in practice runs, with Red Bull’s world champion Max Verstappen saying he could smell the blaze as he drove.
“I can smell burning… is it my car?” the Dutchman asked over team radio.
The rebels claimed 16 attacks on a number of targets including an electrical station in Jizan, bordering Yemen, which was set ablaze.
PA Media reports that the Saudi-led coalition intervened to support Yemen’s internationally recognised government in 2015 after the rebels seized the capital Sanaa the previous year.
The al-Masirah satellite news channel run by Yemen’s Houthi rebels later claimed they had attacked an Aramco facility in Jiddah, along with other targets in Riyadh and elsewhere.
Saudi state TV also acknowledged attacks in the town of Dhahran
Another attack targeted an electrical substation in an area of south-western Saudi Arabia near the Yemeni border, state TV said.
The North Jiddah Bulk Plant stores diesel, gasoline and jet fuel for use in Jiddah, the kingdom’s second-largest city. It accounts for over a quarter of all of Saudi Arabia’s supplies and also provides fuel crucial to running a regional desalination plant.
The Houthis have twice targeted the North Jiddah plant with cruise missiles. One attack came in November 2020. The last came on Sunday as part of a wider barrage by the Houthis.
At the time of the 2020 attack, the targeted tank, which has a capacity of 500,000 barrels, held diesel fuel, according to a recent report by a UN panel of experts examining Yemen’s war. Repairing it after the last attack cost Aramco some 1.5 million dollars.
The U.N. experts described the facility as a “civilian target” which the Houthis should have avoided after the 2020 attack.
Aramco are highly visible sponsors in and around Grand Prix venues and are sponsors of Lawrence Stroll’s Aston Martin F1 team.
Earlier today, in Jeddah shortly before the attacks, seven-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton – winner of the inaugural Saudi GP last year, aired his reservations about racing in the Kingdom. (Report by AFP; Additional reporting Paul Velasco)
Note: The attack so close to the venue has overshadowed today’s sporting side of the Grand Prix weekend, we will monitor developments in Jeddah overnight and update with reports when and if required.
Tomorrow we will report on the Friday Free Practice feedback from teams and drivers.