Houthis say at least 80 killed in Yemen prison airstrike; Saudis deny targeting site

Coalition official says facility wasn’t on international ‘no strike list’; prison in Saada was used as holding center for migrants, who made up many of the casualties

Ruins of a prison hit by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Saada, Yemen, January 21, 2022 (Screen grab/BBC)
Ruins of a prison hit by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Saada, Yemen, January 21, 2022 (Screen grab/BBC)

CAIRO — The death toll from a Saudi-led coalition airstrike that hit a prison run by Yemen’s Houthi rebels climbed to at least 80 detainees, the rebels said Saturday.

The airstrike Friday was part of an intense air and ground offensive that marked an escalation in Yemen’s yearslong civil war. The conflict pits the internationally recognized government, aided by the Saudi-led coalition, against the Iranian-backed rebels.

The Houthis’ media office reported the death tally, saying that rescuers were still searching for survivors and bodies in the rubble of the prison site in the northern province of Saada on the border with Saudi Arabia.

The Doctors Without Borders charity said around 200 people were wounded in the airstrike.

The air attack, one of the deadliest of the war, renewed criticism of the coalition from the United Nations and international aid and rights groups.

Saudi coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Turki al-Malki alleged the Houthis hadn’t reported the site as needing protection from airstrikes to the UN or the International Committee of the Red Cross. He claimed the Houthis’ failure to do so represented the militia’s “usual deceptive approach” in the conflict.

Saudi-led coalition spokesman Turki Al-Malki gives a press conference at the King Salman Airbase in Riyadh on November 5, 2017. (AFP /FAYEZ NURELDINE)

The Houthis used the prison to hold detained migrants, mostly Africans, attempting to cross through the war-torn country into Saudi Arabia.

The escalation was the most intense since 2018 fighting for the Red Sea port of Hodeida and comes after a year of US and UN efforts failed to bring the two sides to the negotiating table.

The conflict in the Arab world’s poorest country began in 2014, when the Houthis took the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen, forcing the government to flee to the south, then to exile in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led coalition, backed at the time by the US, entered the war months later to try to restore the government to power.

The conflict has turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with international criticism of Saudi airstrikes that have killed hundreds of civilians and targeted the country’s infrastructure. The Houthis meanwhile have used child soldiers and indiscriminately laid land mines across the country.

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