Houthi drone strike: Attacks spark huge inferno at two Saudi Arabian oil refineries

Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia: VIDEOS OBTAINED BY REUTERS
Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia: VIDEOS OBTAINED BY REUTERS

Saudi Arabia's oil production has allegedly been disrupted after drone attacks on two Aramco oil plants caused huge fires.

Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group attacked the two refineries on Saturday with dramatic footage showing a huge inferno engulfing one of the sites.

Hours after the Houthi strike in the Abqaiq plant, fire and smoke could be seen billowing above the refinery.

Earlier videos showed bright flames and thick plumes of smoke rising towards the dark pre-dawn sky while an emergency vehicle is seen rushing towards the site.

Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq (VIDEOS OBTAINED BY REUTERS)
Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq (VIDEOS OBTAINED BY REUTERS)

A source close to the matter said the attack has affected five million barrels per day of oil production - almost half the kingdom's current output.

The extent of damage from the drone strikes in Abqaiq and Khurais provinces remains unclear.

Aramco has yet to issue a statement on the attacks and authorities have not reported on casualties.

Saudi Arabia said it had brought the blazes under control, without specifying whether oil production or exports were affected. State television said exports were continuing.

Saudi Aramco operates the world's largest oil processing facility and crude oil stabilisation plant in the world at Abqaiq. The plant has a crude oil processing capacity of more than seven million barrels per day.

Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia (REUTERS)
Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia (REUTERS)

The drone strikes on the world's biggest oil exporter come as state oil giant Saudi Aramco has accelerated plans for an initial public offering to as early as this year, and follow earlier cross-border attacks on Saudi oil installations and on oil tankers in Gulf waters.

Saudi Arabia, leading a Sunni Muslim military coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis, has blamed regional rival Shi'ite Iran for previous attacks, which Tehran denies.

Riyadh accuses Iran of arming the Houthis, a charge denied by the group and Tehran.

The Saudi interior ministry spokesman said Aramco industrial security teams fighting the fires since 0400 (0100 GMT) had managed to control them and stop their spread. He did not identify the source of the drones but said an investigation was underway.

The Houthis' military spokesman, without providing evidence, said the attacks hit refineries at both sites, which are over 1,000 km from the Yemeni capital Sanaa, and pledged a widening of assaults on Saudi Arabia.

The chief of Iran's elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, in a rare reaction to such attacks on Saudi Arabia, praised the Houthis for their resistance in a Twitter post that included the hashtag Aramco.

Satellite image provided by NASA Worldview shows fires following Yemen's Houthi rebels claiming a drone attack on two major oil installations in eastern Saudi Arabia. (AP)
Satellite image provided by NASA Worldview shows fires following Yemen's Houthi rebels claiming a drone attack on two major oil installations in eastern Saudi Arabia. (AP)

Tensions in the region have escalated in recent months after the United States quit an international nuclear deal and extended economic sanctions on Iran.

The Houthis hit Shaybah oilfield last month and two oil pumping stations in May. Both attacks caused fires but did not disrupt production.

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The coalition has responded with air strikes on Houthi targets in Sanaa and other areas held by the group, which controls most large urban centres in Yemen.

The violence is complicating UN-led efforts to ease tensions between the Houthis and Riyadh to pave the way for political talks to end the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

The Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen to try to restore the internationally recognised government ousted from power in the Sanaa by the Houthis in late 2014.

The Yemen conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis deny being puppets of Tehran and say they are fighting a corrupt system.

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