An Aden hotel housing senior Yemeni politicians and a Gulf military base has been hit by blasts in the largest attack on the country’s government since it retook the port city from Houthi rebels in July.
ISIL's Yemen affiliate on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the attack that killed at least 15 troops, including four soldiers from the United Arab Emirates.
"In a blessed operation facilitated by God, four martyrdom operations targeted a gathering of Saudi, Emirati and Yemeni officers," the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, said in a statement.
The group had previously refrained from openly targeting Yemen's government and the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting the Iran-allied Houthis for over six months.
But its attacks come as the Yemeni government, newly returned from exile in Saudi Arabia, is trying to restore order in Aden following the expulsion of the Houthis by Yemeni and Gulf Arab troops in July.
Government officials said Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and officials based at the al-Qasr Hotel were not hurt. But 15 members of the Saudi-led coalition battling rebels in the strife-torn country were killed, according to the United Arab Emirates.
Before ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, the UAE’s official news agency quoted unnamed “informed sources and witnesses” for the death toll and blamed Houthi fighters and their allies.
Initial reports said the missiles were rocket-propelled grenades. But the newspaper Aden al-Ghad quoted Minister of Youth and Sport Nayef al-Bakri as saying the attacks were by suicide bombers.
Video footage posted on Twitter purporting to capture the incident showed a large sheet of flame enveloping the front of the al-Qasr hotel, followed by an expanding plume of dark smoke.
“There was a fire for two hours,” Mohammed al-Saadi, a southern politician who arrived at the hotel about two hours after it was attacked, told Reuters. “The soldiers at the door died in the attack, but I don't know how many there were.”
Yemeni Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and “many ministers were sleeping in the hotel,” Saadi said.
“They and all the government workers have now been moved to a secret place.” President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi was believed to be in Saudi Arabia.
Government spokesman Rajeh Badi told Reuters the cause of the explosions at the hotel were “rockets.”
“No one from among the government was wounded, but we don't have any information on other casualties," he said.
One missile apparently was fired at the gate of the hotel, residents said. A second missile landed nearby and a third hit a compound in Aden's Buraiqah district where Gulf Arab troops are housed, they said.
Earlier, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a Twitter message the attack on the hotel was further proof that the Houthis and Saleh were determined to destroy Yemen.
“The situation on the ground shows that they are waging a losing battle and that their role has been diminished to retreating on the ground and to try to inflict damage with mines, ambushes and rockets,” he said in another message.
Aden al-Ghad reported on its website that Bahah said after the attack he was determined to stay in the city.
The al-Qasr hotel has been the base of Hadi's government since its gradual return from exile in Riyadh, after Houthi fighters were expelled in July.
The hotel has been guarded by troops from the UAE, one of the members of a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting since March to end Houthi control of Yemen and restore Hadi to power in the capital, Sanaa.
Hadi's government has demanded the Houthis recognize its authority and withdraw from several cities, including Sanaa, which they seized in late 2014 and early 2015.
Airstrikes and ground fighting have killed over 4,500 people in Yemen since Gulf Arab nations launched a military campaign in support of Hadi on March 26. U.N.-backed efforts for a compromise have come to nothing.
The Houthis have condemned the coalition for alleged war crimes. They say their seizure of Sanaa in September and their spread throughout the country was part of a revolution against a corrupt Yemeni government beholden to Gulf monarchies and what they see as the imperialist West.
Al Jazeera and wire services