A December 2009 airstrike on insurgents in a known safe haven for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen that resulted in the deaths of both terrorists and civilians has been linked by to the US, according to photographic evidence produced by Amnesty International.
The photographs, released on Amnesty’s website today, show parts of a broken up, US-made, BGM-109D Tomahawk cruise missile, as well as an unexploded BLU 97 cluster bomblet, munitions used in the warhead of the Tomahawk.
The Dec. 17, 2009, strike targeted what was thought to be a training camp run by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the town of Ma’jalah in the province Abyan. A separate strike also took place the same day in the province of Sana’a.
The Yemeni government initially claimed it carried out the strikes in Abyan and Sana’a, and said that 34 al Qaeda fighters were killed and an additional 17 fighters were later captured in ground operations. Independent reports indicated that between 60 and 90 civilians, mostly nomads living in a tent city, were killed. Amnesty claims, based on a Yemeni government investigation, that 14 al Qaeda fighters, along with 41 civilians, including 14 women and 21 children, were killed in the Abyan attack.
But within two days of the strikes, unnamed US intelligence officials acknowledged that the US participated in the strikes and used cruise missiles in the attacks. No official from the US Department of Defense publicly acknowledged involvement in the airstrikes.
US intelligence officials have since denied any direct role in subsequent airstrikes against al Qaeda in Yemen, but do say that the US is providing logistical and intelligence support to the Yemeni military. But the US is believed to have carried out some of the strikes in Yemen, including an attack on May 25 that killed a deputy governor of Marib province as he was meeting with al Qaeda. An unmanned US Predator, or the more deadly Reaper, was spotted in the region before the strike.
Amnesty has characterized the Dec. 17, 2009, airstrike in Abyan as the extrajudicial targeting of terrorists and said an effort should be made to “detain them.”
“A military strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt to detain them is at the very least unlawful,” Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, said in the organization’s press release.
Amnesty’s criticism of the Abyan attack comes just days after the United Nation’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions called for an end to the CIA-run program that is targeting al Qaeda’s top leaders and external operations network in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Amnesty’s recommendation that the US should first attempt to detain terrorists in Yemen before launching strikes demonstrates a lack of understanding of al Qaeda’s control of regions in the country and the central government’s inability and unwillingness to tackle the terror network. Top members of the Yemeni government support al Qaeda, while the Yemeni security forces do not have the capacity to take on the terror group and its allied tribes head on.
Yemen has become one of al Qaeda’s most secure bases and a hub for its activities on the Arabian Peninsula and on the Horn of Africa. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula maintains safe havens in various parts of the country and is also known to operate terror camps in Aden, Marib, Abyan, and in the Alehimp and Sanhan regions in Sana’a. The terror group has conducted attacks on oil facilities, tourists, the US embassy in Sana’a, and Yemeni security forces.
Yemen serves as a command and control center, a logistics hub, a transit point from Asia and the Peninsula, and a source of weapons and munitions for the al Qaeda-backed Shabaab and Hizbul Islam in Somalia.
“Yemen is Pakistan in the heart of the Arab world,” a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in 2009. “You have military and government collusion with al Qaeda, peace agreements, budding terror camps, and the export of jihad to neighboring countries.”
Some of the top leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have been targeted in airstrikes since December 2009, including Abu Basir al Wuhayshi, the group’s leader; Said Ali al Shihri, the second in command; Abu Hurayrah Qasim al Raymi, the military commander; Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish, the top ideologue; and Anwar al Awlaki, a recruiter and ideologue.
Airstrikes in Yemen targeting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula:
May 25, 2010
Mar. 14, 2010
Jan. 20, 2010
Jan. 15, 2010
Dec. 24, 2009
Dec. 17, 2009
A look at 10 of the most dangerous Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leaders: