American drone suspected in wedding-day massacre

Deadliest strike of the year "left charred bodies and burnt-out cars on the road"

Topics: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Drones, Yemen, Drone strikes, U.S. Military, War on Terror,

American drone suspected in wedding-day massacre (Credit: Shutterstock)
This piece originally appeared at the Bureau for Investigative Journalism.

A reported US drone attack in Yemen yesterday is the bloodiest air strike reported in the country so far this year.

A convoy or procession travelling to a wedding in southern Yemen, was attacked by US drones local and international media reported. At least 10 and possibly up to 17 people were reportedly killed. Up to a further 30 people were injured.

Initial reports on the strike disagree over who was killed. Some media report the dead were civilians but others, including the New York Times, report that al Qaeda members were among the wedding party.

The strike reportedly hit four or five vehicles in a convoy of up to 11 in Radaa, capital of al Bayda province and more than 100 miles south of the capital Sanaa. It “left charred bodies and burnt-out cars on the road”, the Associated Press reported.

The attack has not been confirmed as a drone strike. However if it proves to be a drone hit then it will be the first hit on a wedding party in a covert war setting – YemenPakistan or Somalia, according to the Bureau’s data.

Local media reported the names of up to 19 people killed in the strike. However, some of these names could be duplicates or nom de guerre. Up to four of the dead were identified by local media as al Qaeda members. The rest are described as sheikhs and tribesmen of the al Amer and al Tays families.

UK-based Yemeni activist Omar Mashjari told the Bureau: “From what I understand, these two families are notable.” Mashjari’s family live in the area around Radaa. He described it as a bustling city and important trade hub for the surrounding area. He added that its regional significance made it “understandable… that there are certain [al Qaeda] elements there or are involved there or have family there.”



If the initial reports of multiple civilian casualties are accurate, this would represent the highest number of non-combatants killed in an air strike in Yemen since September 2 2012, when 12 civilians were killed in another attack in Radaa. Women and children were among the dead. They were killed as they drove home from market – their mini-van was hit by an air strike, killing all but the driver.

Local officials initially claimed the strike was carried out by the Yemeni air force, but months later US officials told the Washington Post the strike was the work of the US. It is unclear whether the September 2012 attack was carried out by a drone or manned aircraft.

The attack sparked angry demonstrations by the people of al Bayda. The families of the victims and “hundreds of armed gunmen“ demanded an explanation from the government. They “closed main roads and vowed to retaliate.” It is unclear what if any local response will be to the latest strike. But the people of Radaa are reportedly outraged.

Civilian casualties have been credibly reported by multiple sources in four air strikes this year, including in three attacks since President Obama made a major policy speech in May outlining rules governing drone strikes. He said: “Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.”

Human Rights Watch researcher Letta Tayler said that if the reports of the recent strike are true and US drones have caused multiple civilian casualties then “at the very least the United States owes the Yemeni people and the world an explanation of what went wrong.”

Tayler authored a highly detailed investigation into US drone strikes in Yemen in October. This  report for Human Rights Watch called for greater transparency from the US government. She told the Bureau she found the lack of official comment from Washington on the latest strike “shocking in light of the fact that the US only a week or two ago apologised for a strike that killed one civilian in Afghanistan.”

She added: “Why does the US follow different rules for the conventional battlefield and what it describes as the non-conventional battlefields of Yemen and Pakistan?”

In November, it emerged that the CIA had secretly briefed Congress about the death of a child in a strike in Yemen carried out weeks after Obama’s May speech.

There have been at least 29 air strikes reported in Yemen this year. Only one other attack has had casualties in double figures: 12 people were reported killed in a possible drone strike on November 26.

US drones and jets, as well as Yemeni aircraft frequently hit targets in southern Yemen. It is often difficult to ascertain whether a particular attack was from a drone or a manned aircraft. The Bureau has recorded 55 or more confirmed US drone strikes in Yemen since 2002. These attacks have killed at least 269 people. Bureau estimates show at least 12 confirmed strikes by US conventional aircraft as well as cruise missiles have killed at least 144 people in the same period.

The Yemen Air Force is “barely functional,” cannot operate at night and lacks sufficient equipment and training to defend its own airspace. President Abd Rabbo Mansur al Hadi subsequently admitted as much in a speech in Washington in November 2012.

The US has not officially commented on the attack. However, an unnamed official told Reuters: “We have no information that corroborates these reports.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...