Three Yemeni fighter jets were destroyed and several others damaged in overnight explosions that rocked an air base, apparently caused by explosives planted in the planes, officials told on Monday.
“Unknown assailants appear to have planted explosive devices in the fighter jets which were loaded with ammunition in preparation for a combat mission planned for Monday morning,” a military official said on condition of anonymity.
“Three fighter jets went up in flames and several others were damaged by the explosions,” said an aviation official from Sanaa’s International Airport just adjacent to the targeted military base.
The military official told AFP that the planes had been due to undertake a combat mission over the Arhab region, the northern gateway to the capital Sanaa, just 40 kilometres (25 miles) south.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, in which apparently no one was hurt.
The elite Republican Guard units controlled by President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s son Ahmad have a strong presence in Arhab and have so far prevented troops from defected General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar’s First Armoured Division, stationed further north, from streaming into the capital.
Anti-government protests that have swept Yemen since January have triggered an unprecedented political crisis that has left the impoverished country’s economy in shambles and its government weak and fractured.
The deadlock has also triggered defections among Yemen’s military and tribal ranks, with two of Saleh’s once staunch allies, General Ahmar and tribal chief Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, throwing their support behind the protest movement and openly battling pro-Saleh troops in Sanaa’s streets.
Saleh, in power for 33-years, has refused to heed regional and international calls to step down, and his military forces have launched a brutal crackdown on protesters that has left hundreds dead and thousands more wounded.