BAGHDAD — Explosive-laden drones that targeted Saudi Arabia’s royal palace in the kingdom’s capital last month were launched from inside Iraq, a senior Iran-backed militia official in Baghdad and a US official say.
Speaking to The Associated Press, the militia official says three drones were launched from Iraqi-Saudi border areas by a relatively unknown Iran-backed faction in Iraq and crashed into the royal complex in Riyadh on January 23, exacerbating regional tensions.
Attacks on the Saudi capital have been sporadic amid the kingdom’s yearslong war against neighboring Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Earlier this month, the rebels targeted an airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia with bomb-laden drones, causing a civilian plane on the tarmac to catch fire.
The Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, however, denied carrying out an attack that targeted Saudi Arabia’s Yamama Palace on January 23.
The comments by the senior Iraqi militia official mark the first time an Iran-backed group has acknowledged that Iraq was the origin of the attack and points to the challenge Baghdad faces in halting attacks by Iranian-backed militia factions in Iraq.
It followed a responsibility claim allegedly issued by a little-known group called Awliya Wa’ad al-Haq, or “The True Promise Brigades,” that circulated on social media, calling it retaliation for a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group in a main Baghdad shopping district on January 21.
The militia official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly about the attack, says the drones came “in parts from Iran and were assembled in Iraq, and were launched from Iraq.” He doesn’t disclose where along the border the drones were launched and doesn’t provide more details about the group claiming the attack.