Yemen’s Houthis claim to shoot down US MQ-9 Reaper drone; ship targeted in Red Sea

Footage appears to show wreckage of $30 million UAV; missile fired at Panama-flagged vessel off the coast of Yemeni port Hodeida, crew all safe

In this picture taken on September 27, 2023, a US MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle flies over Kandahar city. (Massoud Hossaini/AFP)
In this picture taken on September 27, 2023, a US MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle flies over Kandahar city. (Massoud Hossaini/AFP)

DUBAI (AP) — Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Friday claimed to have shot down an American drone, hours after footage circulated online of what appeared to be the wreckage of an MQ-9 Reaper drone. Early Saturday, a vessel also came under attack in the Red Sea.

The two incidents likely represent just the latest attacks by the Houthis as they press their campaign over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree claimed that rebels shot down the Reaper on Thursday with a surface-to-air missile. He described the drone as “carrying out hostile actions” in Yemen’s Marib province, which remains held by allies of Yemen’s exiled, internationally recognized government.

The Houthis later released footage they claimed showed the surface-to-air-missile being launched at night, along with night-vision footage of the missile hitting the drone. A man, whose voice had been digitally altered to apparently prevent identification, chanted the Houthi slogan: “God is the greatest; death to America; death to Israel; curse the Jews; victory to Islam.”

Online video showed wreckage resembling the pieces of the Reaper on the ground, as well as footage of that wreckage on fire.

The United States military did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press over the Houthi claim. While the rebels have made claims about attacks that turned out later not to be true, they have a history of shooting down US drones and have been armed by their main benefactor, Iran, with weapons capable of high-altitude attack.

Yemeni demonstrators carry a mock missile during a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel rally in the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on April 26, 2024. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

Since the Houthis seized the country’s north and its capital, Sanaa, in 2014, the US military has previously lost at least five drones to the rebels.

Reapers, which cost around $30 million apiece, can fly at altitudes up to 50,000 feet and have an endurance of up to 24 hours before needing to land.

The drone shootdown comes as the Houthis launch attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, demanding Israel ends the war against Hamas in Gaza.

The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the US Maritime Administration.

Early Saturday, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said a ship came under attack off the coast of Yemen’s port city of Hodeida.

The captain “has confirmed sustaining slight damage after being struck by an unknown object on his port quarter,” the UKMTO said. “The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call.”

Yemeni men riding motorcycles drive over an Israeli flag painted on the asphalt in the Houthi-run capital Sanaa on February 29, 2024. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

The private security firm Ambrey said it believed the vessel struck was a Panama-flagged crude oil tanker.

Radio traffic suggested the ship was “hit by a missile and that there was a fire in the steering gear flat,” Ambrey said.

The Houthis did not immediately acknowledge the attack, though it typically takes them hours to issue a claim.

Houthi attacks have dropped in recent weeks as the rebels have been targeted by a US-led airstrike campaign in Yemen. Shipping through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden still remains low because of the threat, however.

Last week, the Houthis threatened to extend their attacks to Israel-bound shipping to the Mediterranean.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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