A Saudi Arabian Air Force commander, reported to have died from a heart attack, was actually killed by a Houthi cross-border attack earlier this month, according to an Israeli intelligence and military website.
On Wednesday, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) quoted the following statement issued by the Ministry of Defense:
“The Commander of Saudi Royal Air Forces Lieutenant General Mohammed bin Ahmed Al-Shaalan died today during a working trip outside the Kingdom due to a heart attack.”
The Saudi-based Arab News site similarly noted that the Air Force commander was on a “business trip outside the Kingdom” when he died, though no additional details were provided about the nature of the trip, its purpose, or duration.
Following the announcement, conflicting reports have emerged about the cause and even time of Al-Shaalan’s death, with sources saying the general was killed by a cross-border Houthi rocket attack that took place on June 6, five days before the SPA’s announcement.
According to Israeli military and intelligence news site DEBKAfiles, the general was killed when Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched a Scud missile attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest air base, King Khalid, in the southwestern region of Asir. The base has been used by the Saudi military for its airstrike campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Reportedly acting on intelligence received from Iranian sources, Houthi fighters launched an attack in the middle of the night on June 6, firing several Scud missiles. Saudi sources insisted the attacks were intercepted by Patriot missiles, deployed on the base by the US to counter attacks from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). However, the Arabic-language Al Mayadeen channel reported the Houthi missiles hit their target.
DEBKAFiles additionally reported that the Patriot counter-missiles only intercepted two of the fired 15 rockets.
The conflicting report falls in line with the official Iranian Fars News Agency, which similarly cited an anonymous Yemeni source in New York as saying “Shaalan was killed in the Yemeni army’s missile attacks against Saudi Arabia’s Khamees al-Mushait region five days earlier.”
DEBKAFiles contends that the Saudi government has concealed the real cause of Al-Shaalan’s death so as to “avoid affecting the morale of Saudi combatants taking part in the Yemen war.”
The Saudi-led airstrike campaign in Yemen began in March when the embattled Yemeni president Abdu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi enlisted the help of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to counter the advancement of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in the country.