Saudi Arabia said its air defenses destroyed seven ballistic missiles late Sunday, fired from neighboring Yemen and targeting at least four Saudi cities including the capital, Riyadh.
The reported bombardment was said to have been launched by Houthi insurgents in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country. If confirmed, it would be one of the rebels’ most audacious assaults on Saudi Arabia since the kingdom started bombing Houthi targets in Yemen exactly three years ago.
The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news website quoted Col. Turki al-Maliki, a military spokesman, as saying three of the missiles were directed at Riyadh and the others were fired toward the southwestern cities of Khamis Mushait, Najran and Jazan, near the Yemen border.
Al Arabiya said that they were “launched indiscriminately to target civilian areas and population” and that fragments of the destroyed missiles landed on residential neighborhoods. The extent of any damage was not immediately clear.
At least one civilian, described by Al Arabiya as an Egyptian national, was said to have died in the missile attack.
The official Saudi Press Agency said all the missiles had been destroyed.
The missile attack came as the architect of the bombing campaign, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was on a friendship visit to the United States, which has aided the Saudi military’s intervention in Yemen.
An earlier brief report on Al Arabiya had said that Patriot missile batteries operated by the Saudi Air Force in Riyadh had intercepted at least one incoming missile and that witnesses had reported “loud explosions and bright flashes in the sky.”
Debris from a Houthi-fired missile fired in November barely missed a passenger terminal at Riyadh’s international airport.
Amateur videos uploaded to YouTube appeared to show that at least one of the Patriot missiles fired on Sunday failed to hit its target, instead doing a U-turn and crashing with a huge flash on the ground.
The Houthis, who are supported by Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran, have fired missiles into Saudi Arabia several times.
The Saudis and the Americans have accused Iran of violating a United Nations arms embargo by providing military weapons and supplies to the Houthis, including missiles. Iran has denied the accusation but has defended the missile launchings, calling them a justified response to devastating Saudi-led aerial attacks.
In their own account of the attack, the Houthis said they had fired at least three ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.
The Houthi account, carried by the Saba news agency in Yemen, also quoted the group’s leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, as saying in a speech that he would remain defiant to “Saudi-American aggression.”
The Saudi intervention in Yemen, which began on March 25, 2015, has helped cause what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, exacerbated by strict Saudi controls on shipping into the country.
Most people in Yemen need food urgently. The country has been upended by severe hunger and threats of famine, forced displacement and preventable diseases including cholera and diphtheria.
Geert Cappelaere, the Unicef director for the Middle East and North Africa, who just completed a weeklong visit to Yemen, said on Sunday that the country had one of the world’s highest numbers of acutely malnourished children.
“It is fair to say today that every single girl and boy in Yemen is facing acute humanitarian needs,” he said. “Three years of war, decades of chronic underdevelopment have done something for the children of Yemen — but unfortunately nothing good.”