Several Muslim and Western countries have condemned a rocket attack launched last Thursday by Yemeni rebels against the holy city of Mecca.
The attack, which was intercepted by Saudi Arabia’s air defense system, was launched by a Zaidi Shi’a rebel group known as the Houthis (or followers of Al-Houthi), the armed insurgency group that has taken over large swaths of Yemeni territory since 2011. Last year they took control of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, provoking a Saudi Arabia-lead counter-insurgency.
The Houthis have fought alongside forces loyal to former dictatorial president Ali Abdullah Saleh. They have retained a stockpile of Soviet-era Scud missiles and similar weaponry. Another Houthi missile fired earlier this month targeted Taif, a town near Mecca that is home to Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd airbase.
Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat conducted interviews with foreign diplomats to Saudi Arabia from Germany, Ireland, Turkey, Greece, Peru, Singapore, and Afghanistan who condemned the attack, saying that Mecca was a holy site and “red line” for all Muslims. Afghanistan in particular cited their objection to attacks against any Islamic holy sites and urged the international community to take action against the attacks.
“These types of attacks are unacceptable,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
“There is no military solution to this conflict and [we] urge all sides to exercise restraint and immediately and publicly agree to an unconditional cessation of hostilities,” he added.
President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria met on Sunday with Saudi King Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud to express Nigeria’s solidarity with Saudi Arabia following the attack. Femi Nadesina, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to Mr. Buhari, said that Buhari condemned what he called an attack on innocent people.
Mecca is the most significant holy site for the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, many of whom pray in the direction of Mecca five times a day.
“It is reprehensible and ignoble for terrorists to target a holy landwhere millions of Muslims from around the globe gather for pilgrimage”, Nadesina quoted Buhari as saying in a statement.
“In the telephone conversation with King Salman, President Buhari reiterated the need to strengthen international support and coalition in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, noting that when the world stands together, there is no way good would not prevail over evil,” Nadesina added.
On Friday, a statement from Egypt’s foreign ministry announced Egypt’s “full solidarity” with Saudi Arabia and reiterated its support for Yemen’s official government, headed by President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and backed by Saudi Arabia, which has been operating in exile since the 2015 takeover of Sana’a by the rebels. Egypt called the missile attack an “unacceptable precedent” that betrayed a “disregard for the sanctity of Muslim holy sites that should not pass in silence”. It also called the attacks a “dangerous escalation” of the war in Yemen.
Katar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Turkey, and Jordan also condemned the attack.
Many have also held Iran partially responsible for the attacks because of their support for the Houthi rebels.
“The Iranian regime that supports a terrorist group which targets Holy Makkah, is this an Islamic regime as it claims?” said United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed said on his Twitter account (Makkah is another spelling of Mecca).
Jerusalem’s Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein also said that the attack on Makkah “sets a very dangerous precedent.”
“It is very unfortunate that this attack today might fuel an already sectarian-strife region. The Sunnis of the Arab world don’t believe in dividing the religion, as we accept that Allah will welcome any Muslim as long as he or she is repentant of their sins. Unfortunately, though, the attack on Makkah represents a sectarian angle where you have someone like Iran attacking a place of worship,” Hussein told reporters.
Because ballistic missiles are sophisticated weapons that are difficult to procure or produce, it is likely that Iran has supplied the rebels with the weapons, which are leftovers from Iran’s military support from Russia in the 1980s. Iran has also been blamed by some for the dissolution of peace talks to end the conflict in Yemen.
Maryam Rajavi of the National Council of the Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an Iranian political resistance group who have previously alerted the international community to arms shipments from Iran to Yemen, strongly condemned the targeting of Mecca with rockets and said that the order was given by Ayatollah Khomeini. She called it a “declaration of war” to all the world’s Muslims and asked other Muslim states to cut off their relations with Iran.
“Even earlier the mullahs’ regime spared no effort to conduct crimes and desecration of Mecca and the sacred House of God. Among others were sending explosives to Saudi in 1986, and causing riot and chaos in Mecca in 1987 that took the lives of more than 400 pilgrims. This is the very same regime that did not even hesitate to explode the shrines of Shi’ite Imams in Mashhad and Samarra in a bid to maintain its infamous reign,” said Mrs. Rajavi in a statement.
Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for the United Arab Emirates, said that “the Iranian regime backs a terrorist group that fires its rockets on Mecca” and questioned the Islamic faith of the regime.