A senior Houthi official says Yemen will reveal “in due course” information about the fate of two Saudi pilots whose Britain-made Tornado was shot down in Sa’ada province earlier this month.
A statement carried by the Saudi state news agency SPA after the downing said that the kingdom had conducted a special operation to evacuate the pilots who allegedly survived the incident, but no more information has emerged since then.
On Sunday, Houthi politburo member Mohammed al-Bukhaiti revealed in an interview with London-based al-Mayadeen TV that the Saudi air force had tried to eliminate the two pilots after their aircraft was shot down on Feb. 14.
“The Saudis intended to kill the pilots with their airstrikes on the wreckage of the downed fighter jet,” he said.
“Saudi fighters targeted every movement in the area where the aircraft had been shot down, which resulted in the martyrdom of dozens of Yemeni civilians,” Bukhaiti added.
According to the United Nations, 31 civilians were killed in Saudi airstrikes that hit al-Hayjah area in al-Jawf province. Yemeni officials said the bombings took place as local people gathered to have a look at the wreckage of the downed plane.
Saudi Arabia conceded the “possibility of collateral damage” during a “search and rescue operation” at the site of the downing, which left the fate of its crew uncertain.
Yemen’s Houthis released footage of what they called the launch of their “advanced surface-to-air missile” and the moment it struck the warplane in the night sky, sending it crashing down in a ball of flames.
“The downing of a Tornado in the sky above al-Jawf is a major blow to the enemy and an indication of remarkable growth in Yemeni air defense capabilities,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam tweeted.
The downing of the Saudi warplane marks another setback to a military alliance known for its air supremacy and signals Yemen’s increasingly potent military arsenal.
On Sunday, Yemen’s armed forces unveiled four domestically-built long-range, surface-to-air missile defense systems in what is seen as a game changer in the war.
Head of Yemen’s Supreme Political Council and commander-in-chief of the armed forces Mahdi al-Mashat identified the systems as Fater-1 (Innovator-1), Thaqib-1 (Piercer-1), Thaqib-2 and Thaqib-3. The systems have entered service following successful tests, he said.
“The new defense systems will change the course of the battle against the coalition of aggression, and pave the ground for the introduction of more sophisticated systems in order to engage enemy targets,” Mashat said.
Bukhaiti said Sunday, “Each time we have tested a new system, we have announced it in order to highlight Yemen’s defensive capabilities in deterring the enemy.”
Back in January 2018, Yemen’s missile defense units shot down a Tornado and a US-made F-15 belonging to the so-called Saudi-led coalition. The Yemeni forces have also shot down numerous combat and surveillance drones as well as a number of helicopters so far.
Saudi Arabia launched its war on Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing back to power the government of former president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and crushing the Houthi movement.
The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the Saudi war has claimed more than 100,000 lives over almost five years.
The UN says over 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including 10 million suffering from extreme levels of hunger.