Patriot anti-missile batteries in Saudi Arabia called into question

There are videos that purportedly show missiles malfunctioning.

BEIRUT -- A barrage of missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels fell on targets in Saudi Arabia late Sunday evening, killing one person in Riyadh and wounding two, according to Saudi Press Agency, the state-run news agency. This week marked the third anniversary of the Saudi kingdom’s participation in the war in Yemen.

The casualties were the first in Saudi Arabia’s capital since the Saudi-led war in Yemen began in March 2015, although others have died from missile strikes in the kingdom.

Houthi commanders say they launched the missile attack aimed at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport, among other sites, striking deep inside Saudi territory. The conflict in Yemen has demolished the nation’s infrastructure, medical facilities and water treatment centers, leaving the country on the verge of man-made famine.

The Saudi military said it intercepted seven ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis at the kingdom, three of them targeting Riyadh and two targeting the southern city of Jizan. Two missiles targeted other cities.

Iran’s role in the conflict will likely come under renewed scrutiny, as a Houthi-run satellite news channel identified some of the missiles fired as the Burkan, or Volcano, missile. The Burkan is a type the United Nations and Western authorities say resembles Qiam ballistic missiles manufactured by Tehran.

Col. Turku al-Maliki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said in a statement: “This hostile action by the Houthi militia, which indiscriminately targets the Kingdom's civilian areas, proves the continued involvement of the Iranian regime.”

Saudi-owned satellite news media aired footage claiming to show structural damage in Riyadh as a result of the strikes and Patriot anti-missile batteries firing at the incoming rockets.

As with nearly every previous missile launched by Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels, Saudi officials said all seven fired were intercepted, but online videos raise new questions about those claims.

One video appears to show a Patriot missile launch on Sunday night go wrong, with the missile changing course midair, crashing into a neighborhood in Riyadh and exploding. Another appears to detonate shortly after being launched in the Saudi capital.

Col. Stephen Ganyard, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and ABC News contributor, said he would not be surprised if some of the Patriot missiles failed to hit their targets due to the system’s technical limitations.

“I’m not sure there has ever been a salvo of long-range missiles shot at a modern missile defense system,” Ganyard said, “but this is an example of what might happen when numbers increase. Every additional missile adds uncertainty.”

The Saudi military did not acknowledge the alleged missile malfunctions, with Col. al-Maliki only saying in a statement, “All seven ballistic missiles were intercepted and destroyed.”

Ganyard said that if the videos of Patriot missiles malfunctioning are authentic, it demonstrates the uncertainty the United States faces with similar anti-missile systems it has deployed in places like eastern Europe to protect against missiles from Iran.

“Missile defense is really, really hard science, and we don’t really know much besides single missile attacks,” Ganyard said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. provides logistical support and weaponry to the Saudi-led coalition, which has been criticized for killing civilians in Yemen with airstrikes as well as blocking Yemeni ports, bringing the country to the edge of famine.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the coalition would react to Sunday’s attack. Houthi leaders warned Saudi Arabia against further airstrikes.

“As we said before, if you stop your airstrikes, we will stop our missiles and if your airstrikes continue, then we have the right to defend ourselves in all available tools,” Saleh al-Sammad, a Houthi leader, said in a speech before thousands gathered in Sanaa.