The Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen said Monday that they shot down a Moroccan F-16 fighter jet that was participating in the Saudi-led coalition against them and their allies.
Shortly before the Houthis made that claim, Morocco’s military reportedly said that one of the six warplanes it deployed for the Saudi-led Sunni campaign had gone missing.
“A Moroccan online news site with close ties to the kingdom’s royal palace and security and intelligence services said the aircraft was one of two that flew out of a base in the United Arab Emirates on a reconnaissance mission over the Yemeni side of the border with Saudi Arabia,” reports The Associated Press (AP). “The French-language site, Le360, said rebel anti-aircraft batteries stationed on top of mountains opened fire on the two aircraft as they flew overhead at low altitude.”
“The air defense of the tribes shot down a warplane over Wadi Nushur, in Saada,” the Shiite Houthi rebels’ northern stronghold, said their mouthpiece television station Al-Masar, showing images of tribesmen celebrating around the wreckage of the warplane.
According to the television station, it was an F-16 fighter jet.
The footage showed “a Moroccan flag on a broken rudder lying on a rocky patch,” reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Similar photos claiming to show the downed aircraft were posted on social media. Armed tribesman and children posed next to the wreckage in the photograph, which also showed Morocco’s national colors red and green on the jet and a corpse.
— Yemen Post Newspaper (@YemenPostNews) May 11, 2015
If the Houthis shot down the plane, it would be the first to go down within Yemen.
During the early days of the Saudi-led campaign, a fighter jet did crash in the Arabian Sea off Yemen’s southern coast.
However, the pilot was reportedly picked up by a nearby navy vessel and the crash was allegedly caused by technical problems.
Citing an armed forces statement, Morocco’s state news agency Map reportedly said the pilot of a second warplane did not witness the pilot of the missing aircraft eject.
Morocco’s military said it had launched an investigation into the missing fighter jet, without commenting on a cause.
A Saudi official said that an investigation was trying to determine the missing plane’s whereabouts.
“It is definitely inside Yemen and it is a single pilot on board,” the Saudi official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
AP notes that the Houthis and their allies, military units loyal to Yemen’s former president, have regularly fired anti-aircraft weapons at fighter jets in the country since the Saudi-led air campaign began on March 26.
According to the U.N., more than 1,400 people, many of them civilians, have died in the Yemen conflict since March 19.
A cease-fire to allow the flow of much needed humanitarian aid into Yemen is expected to begin on Tuesday.
Both sides have warned they will resume fighting if the truce is violated.
The Saudi-led air campaign and the fighting on the ground have left Yemenis suffering from acute shortages of food, fuel, and medicine.