In December 17, 2009, Yemen’s air force claimed it had killed 30 suspected al- Qaeda operatives during an airstrike on a training camp in Majala, southern Abyan province.
This version of events was circulated around the world but when Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye managed to get to the scene, he discovered were the remnants of Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs, neither of which are in the Yemeni military’s arsenal. He photographed the missile parts, some of them bearing the label “Made in the USA,” and distributed the photos to international media outlets. And among the dead were 14 women and 21 children.
Shaye’s subsequent report incriminated the US in a military operation in which they had been so keen to deny any involvement. Yemen dismissed the report and the US refused to comment even when it smells US.
Cluster munitions used is notorious for its indiscriminate effects. Unexploded bomblets threaten lives and livelihoods for years afterwards.
- “Amnesty International is gravely concerned by evidence that cluster munitions appear to have been used in Yemen, when most states around the world have committed to comprehensively ban these weapons,” said Mike Lewis, Amnesty International’s arms control researcher.
The type of missile is such that is launched from a warship or submarine. It is designed to carry a payload of 166 cluster submunitions (bomblets) which each explode into over 200 sharp steel fragments that can cause injuries up to 150m away. An incendiary material inside the bomblet also spreads fragments of burning zirconium designed to set fire to nearby flammable objects.
A further photograph, apparently taken within half an hour of the others, shows an unexploded BLU 97 A/B submunition itself, the type carried by BGM-109D missiles. These missiles are known to be held only by US forces and Yemeni armed forces are unlikely to be capable of using such a missile.
Amnesty International were among the lone voices that spoke in condemnation of the irresponsible action of the US Government.
- “A military strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt to detain them is at the very least unlawful. The fact that so many of the victims were actually women and children indicates that the attack was in fact grossly irresponsible, particularly given the likely use of cluster munitions” Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
Thus Shaye became a marked man. He was subsequently abducted by Yemeni intelligence agents, who warned him to stop speaking about the strike. Instead, he went on Al Jazeera to say what had happened to him. A month later, he was arrested and sent to prison in a trial that was widely seen as a sham. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Committee to Protect Journalists, and the International Federation of Journalists as all described his trial as a sham. He was accused of being an al-Qaeda operative and has been behind bars ever since (January of 2011).
After a public outcry from tribal leaders in Yemen, Local and international Human Rights organisations over Shaye’s imprisonment, Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh was prepared to release Shaye, but he was swayed otherwise by a call from U.S. president Barack Obama on February 2, 2011 citing his “concern” over Shaye’s imminent release.
Shaye remains locked up.
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