ADEN, Yemen — Forces loyal to Yemen’s former president stormed the international airport in the southern port city of Aden on Thursday, triggering an intense, hours-long gunbattle before security forces loyal to the current president repelled them.
The fighting forced the airport’s closure, and passengers on a flight to Cairo on the tarmac were rushed off the plane and into the terminal building. Sporadic clashes between the two sides’ loyalists erupted around Aden, the country’s second most important city and economic hub, overlooking the Arabian Sea.
The assault in Aden was the latest against Yemen’s embattled, internationally backed president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was driven out of the capital, Sanaa, after a takeover by Shiite rebels known as Houthis. Hadi and his allies fled to Aden, which they have made their de facto capital in a conflict that threatens to push the long unstable, impoverished nation into outright fragmentation.
The attack on the airport was by forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, the longtime autocratic president who was ousted from power by a 2011 popular uprising. Saleh has allied with the Houthis against Hadi, and his loyalists still command parts of the military and police. The attempt to capture Aden’s airport appeared to be aimed at isolating the city and weakening Hadi’s hold.
Last week, Saleh boasted he would corner Hadi as he fled from Sanaa. “Those fleeing to the south … will find only one exit: the Red Sea toward Djibouti,” he said in a speech to his supporters.