II. Case Studies
1. Wessab: Strike on Alleged Local AQAP Leader
On April 17, 2013, two US drones flying over Wessab, a remote district perched on some of Yemen’s highest mountains, fired at least three Hellfire missiles at a car carrying an alleged local AQAP leader, Hamid al-Radmi, also known as Hamid al-Manea or Hamid Meftah. The attack killed al-Radmi, his driver and two bodyguards.
Government officials described al-Radmi as a local AQAP leader and recruiter. He spent a decade in prison—four years starting in 1995 for killing his cousin, and six years starting in 2004 on a terrorism-related conviction. One friend said al-Radmi was among the many Yemenis who traveled to Iraq to support domestic insurgents following the US-led invasion of that country in 2003.
At the same time, he was one of Wessab’s most influential figures, moving openly throughout the area. Al-Radmi met regularly with security officials at government offices just a few minutes’ walk from his house and was returning with a local official from a meeting an hour’s drive from his home when he was killed.
The nature of al-Radmi’s alleged involvement with AQAP, possibly not involving any operational military role, raises questions about the lawfulness of the attack under the laws of war. Participating in recruiting would not in itself make an individual subject to attack.
Killed Near Government Building
Al-Radmi was killed as his vehicle approached the outskirts of his village, Mathab, after mediating local disputes in the community of Bani Hafs. Around 8:30 p.m., at least two missiles struck al-Radmi’s four-wheel drive vehicle, instantly killing al-Radmi, 35; his driver Akram Ahmed Hamoud Daer, 20; and a bodyguard, Ismail al-Magdishi, 28. A second bodyguard, Ghazi al-Emad, 28, died later that night from his injuries.
Residents said they saw two drones overhead at the time of the strike and that a third drone flew in immediately after the attack. Human Rights Watch found the damage to al-Radmi’s four-by-four consistent with a drone strike and identified the remnants of the weapons launched as Hellfire missiles.
The website of Yemen’s newspaper 26 September, a mouthpiece for the Ministry of Defense, confirmed an “airstrike” against al-Radmi but did not say what weapons or forces were involved. An official with Yemen’s Minister of Interior, whose name was not published, told China’s Xinhua news agency that the strike involved two missiles launched from an “unmanned warplane” and that it was “a joint military operation” involving “Yemeni, US and Saudi intelligence services.”
Drones had been sporadically hovering over Wessab since al-Radmi’s return to his village in 2011. Still, some residents initially thought they were hearing an explosion related to construction of the area’s first paved road. Running outside after the first blast, villagers saw at least one more missile fly toward the area of the strike.
At that point, scores of villagers began rushing down a winding dirt road toward the flaming vehicle. As they approached, they saw al-Radmi’s charred body half ejected from the vehicle, two other charred corpses inside, and a fourth man outside the car.
Ahmad Hamoud Qaed Daer, the father of al-Radmi’s driver, was among those first at the scene. He told Human Rights Watch:
The fire was high; no one dared get close and the planes [drones] were hovering above. I also heard someone saying, “I'm Ghazi al-Emad, please help me.” I couldn’t do anything.… It was dark and there was a lot of smoke. There was no moon and I didn't even have a flashlight. I saw my son, charred, in the front seat. … I didn’t even know that he was driving for Hamid that day.
A third drone appeared, residents said, increasing the panic. Some villagers tried to brave the fire to rescue Emad, including Shafiq Muhammad al-Magdishi, the brother of the other bodyguard killed in the strike:
His [Emad’s] legs were cut off from the knee down and there was a lot of blood coming from his mouth. We saw later that his stomach was bleeding as well and his eyes were burned. He couldn’t open them and was blinded. He was screaming and then his voice slowly dropped. It became lower, lower, and lower until he couldn't talk.
Qaed al-Farimi, a prominent resident of Wessab and friend of al-Radmi’s, said the blast “terrorized the people,” stoking anger:
People were going to their roofs and screaming … and cursing, "Who is this bombing at night? [Expletive] his father!” They [the blasts] terrified even children and women. Some ran out of their houses and some ran to the basements to hide where their cows live because of the fear.
Even the second day, the planes [drones] were there until we buried them. I swear by Allah if we had had weapons, not a single plane would leave. We would take them down because they terrified the village.
“I Could Have Arrested Him”
Al-Radmi reportedly commanded the loyalty of many armed men and lived in a fortress-like house atop a steep cliff. Even so, residents and security officials said he could have been arrested at any time after he returned to Wessab in 2011 upon his release from prison.
“He was in my office all the time and I could even have gone to his house to arrest him,” said one ranking security officer in Wessab who knew al-Radmi. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had never received any order for al-Radmi’s arrest. A second local security official echoed those comments.
Al-Radmi traveled only with a driver when he went to local government offices, less than one kilometer from his house, and even went to the local courthouse to intercede on behalf of residents, a friend said. Al-Radmi’s mother also that local government offices were “next to us and he used to go there all the time.”
So open were al-Radmi’s movements that on the day he was attacked he had attended a qat chew with Mojahed al-Mosanif, the secretary-general of the Wessab government council, at a village an hour’s drive away where he was helping solve local disputes, residents said. Al-Radmi and al-Mosanif also performed the Maghrib prayer together immediately after sunset, they said. When al-Radmi’s four-by-four was struck, al-Mosanif’s car was directly behind him. In addition, al-Radmi had been scheduled to meet three days after his death with the governor of Dhamar, the province that includes Wessab, to discuss local grievances.
A Yemeni government official with knowledge of the strike, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that al-Radmi could readily have been captured. Speaking of both al-Radmi and Adnan al-Qadhi, another alleged AQAP chief who was killed in a drone strike, the official said that in cases where the government has moved in armed forces to rout AQAP, they often are defeated:
They [al-Radmi and al-Qadhi] had strong tribal ties and the government is in no position to capture them or physically hold them for a while. The state is too weak right now. So what do you do? The easiest option is, you take them out. Because they are actively recruiting.
Some residents suggested al-Radmi may have been killed because of his prominence or because he challenged local authorities. A week before the deadly strike, al-Radmi called on local officials to spend more revenues on public works and services, according to one friend, and “argued with them.”
Relatives said that had authorities sought their help, they would have turned al-Radmi over to them. Relatives play an important role in administering justice in Yemen’s tightly knit family and tribal system.
One cousin, an elderly farmer named Muhammad Ali Saleh, said the killing turned al-Radmi into a martyr:
They should have taken him to court, brother. Charge him and keep him in prison and even hang him there up and down every day but not kill him like that if he committed a crime. Now people are crying about him everywhere. What does that accomplish?
Al-Radmi and AQAP
There are conflicting accounts of al-Radmi’s relationship with AQAP. Yemeni government officials called him a local AQAP “leader” who started a cell for the group upon returning to his home village of Mathlab, in Wessab district, with his wife and young son in 2011. “He was building an AQAP mini-militia on the mountain,” the Yemeni government official with knowledge of the strike told Human Rights Watch. Nasser Arrabyee, a Yemeni journalist from Wessab, reported that while in prison al-Radmi met Qasim al-Raymi, who went on to become the military commander of AQAP. Security officials said al-Radmi helped hide wounded AQAP fighters in Wessab’s rugged mountains when they fled southern Abyan in mid-2012.
In 2012, local authorities searched al-Radmi’s home after he was rumored to around his house,” said al-Farimi, the prominent resident who was al-Radmi’s friend. Al-Radmi was “cooperative,” according to the ranking security officer. The authorities found no weapons apart from four Kalashnikov assault rifles, said the security officer and al-Farimi, who was part of the search committee. Possessing four assault rifles “is a normal thing here,” the security official said. Indeed, a household arsenal of that kind is not unusual in Yemen, the world’s second-most armed country after the United States.
Several AQAP experts told Human Rights Watch they were not aware of al-Radmi being a military commander or otherwise playing a role in military operations for AQAP. One acquaintance said al-Radmi received 60,000 Yemeni rials (US$280) per month from the group—a modest wage even in impoverished Yemen. Being solely an AQAP recruiter without a direct military role would not make him subject to attack.
The Yemeni government official told Human Rights Watch that “it is not clear in some cases,” including those of al-Radmi and al-Qadhi, whether the targets of US strikes “are actually military commanders or operators of attacks. But they recruit openly, openly.”
“Striking is not the most ethical position” in some of these cases, the official said. “But if you don’t strike them, will they recruit more? That is the debate.”
Whatever his role, al-Radmi did not advertise it, in contrast to top AQAP leadership who regularly pen articles or appear in videos. The majority of residents whom Human Rights Watch interviewed in Wessab said they had no idea that al-Radmi was a suspected AQAP member until he was killed.
Before he was imprisoned, al-Radmi had been an officer in Yemen’s Republican Guard, the now-disbanded military unit that had been commanded by former president Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali Saleh. He was reputed to be friendly with ranking members of the General People’s Congress, the party founded and still headed by the former president.
Most residents of Upper Wessab, the area of the township where al-Radmi lived, are subsistence wheat farmers and shepherds whose remote mountain villages have no electricity and few services. Residents describe the area as “forgotten” by central authorities: as noted above, Wessab’s road to the rest of the province was being paved for the first time at the time of al-Radmi’s death, and the last high-level visit was a campaign stop by a provincial official in 2003.
Al-Radmi quickly filled the governance vacuum, gaining prominence as a mediator of disputes over issues such as property boundaries and water use. Residents gathered “day and night” at al-Radmi’s house to seek his counsel and several were awaiting him there at the time he was killed, one friend said.
AQAP’s offshoot Ansar al-Sharia also sought to provide assistance to inhabitants of areas it controlled in Abyan in 2011-12, but al-Radmi did not reject government authority; instead he intervened openly and directly with local and provincial officials on residents’ behalf.
If al-Radmi were not a valid military target, the guards traveling with him would not have been valid military targets either: there is no evidence that they themselves were AQAP fighters.
Al-Magdishi said his brother, a father of three, had been accompanying al-Radmi for some quick cash while awaiting answers on jobs he’d applied for elsewhere in the Gulf.
Daer said his son, whose wife had just given birth to their first child, was driving for al-Radmi temporarily in the hope that in return al-Radmi would help him get into a military academy in Sanaa.
The relatives said they had not received any compensation from the US or Yemeni authorities after their deaths.
2. Al-Masnaah: Attack on Low-Level Militants
On January 23, 2013, one or more missiles launched from a drone killed four people traveling in a sports utility vehicle (SUV) on a back road toward the town of Sanhan, about 20 kilometers southeast of Sanaa. Two of the passengers were alleged AQAP members. Neither was believed to be of high rank. The other two men in the vehicle were cousins who by all accounts were civilians.
Depending on the military importance of the two targeted AQAP members, under the laws of war the strike on the vehicle may have caused disproportionate harm to civilians.
The missiles struck a Toyota Hilux SUV in the village of Masnaah, about five kilometers outside of Sanhan, at approximately 8:10 p.m., destroying the vehicle. The driver and all three passengers were killed. Multiple media reports identified two of the men as alleged AQAP members Rabee Hamoud Lahib and Naji Ali Saad. The other two men in the vehicle were Ali al-Qawli, 34, an elementary-school teacher and father of three, and his cousin Salim al-Qawli, 20, a college student who drove the borrowed Toyota as a car service to earn money for his family.
A Human Rights Watch examination of photos of remnants of the ordnance and wreckage found the damage consistent with Hellfire missiles launched from a drone. Relatives of the killed civilians said they heard the whirr of drones—“like a big generator”— around the time of the attack. Yemeni officials, speaking anonymously to local and international media at the time, also identified the attack as a drone strike.
The al-Qawli cousins had traveled that afternoon with five friends and relatives from their hometown of Khawlan to Jihana, a nearby town that is a provincial transit hub, to chew qat. Around 7 p.m., they headed towards the parking lot of the central souk (market), which is also an area where drivers offer public transport. As they sat in the Toyota, the two cousins were approached by two strangers who offered them 10,000 rials (US$47) to take them to Sanhan, another town about 10 kilometers and a 45-minute drive from Jihana, according to two other relatives s who were with the cousins at the time.
Salim al-Qawli had been driving the Toyota, which belonged to an uncle, to earn money for his parents, seven siblings, and a grandfather who required costly medical care for a heart attack and dementia, said his uncle Muhammad al-Qawli.
The two relatives who overheard the conversation with the strangers said Salim al-Qawli jumped at the offer of a generous fare. The two strangers were wearing civilian clothes. Each carried a Kalashnikov, “but that is normal for people in this area,” said Abdullah Jamil al-Qawli, one of the relatives. The two strangers did not want anyone else to join them in the car, saying they were picking up other passengers en route. Around 8:10 p.m., as the al-Qawlis’ friends and relatives waited in Jihana for the cousins to return to bring them home, they heard an explosion that sounded like an airstrike.
Muhammad al-Qawli, the father of Ali al-Qawli, learned that his nephew and son were killed in the strike after a relative called him from the site and told him the vehicle’s tags were from 1982:
He [the relative] said, “The bodies are so charred I can’t recognize them.” I called the relative who owned the vehicle and asked, “What year is your car?” He said, “It’s a 1982.” He told me, “Ali and Salim took a fare to Sanhan and I am waiting for them to return.” That’s when I went into shock.
Muhammad al-Qawli and other relatives drove to the site of the strike. There, he said, they found a horrific scene:
Many villagers were surrounding the car. The car was still burning. Body parts were spread across the area. Security forces came, the police and the Central Security Forces [which at the time operated a US-funded and trained Counter-Terrorism Unit]. All they did was remove the license plate of the car and take some photos and then they left. They did not even set up a roadblock. The bodies were burned like animals and none of them even attempted to help. I screamed, “Guys, be human!” and started throwing sand at the fire.
Muhammad al-Qawli and Hussain Jamil al-Qawli began crying as they told Human Rights Watch how relatives only recognized Ali al-Qawli by his teeth and Salim al-Qawli by a patch on his pants, which were still on one leg that was severed from his body.
When the al-Qawlis’ relatives returned the next day to try to retrieve the bodies, they found them gone—the authorities had taken them to Sanaa. Enraged, about 200 residents from the cousins’ hometown and surrounding areas blocked roads for two days, refusing passage to all government vehicles.
The response of Abd al-Ghani Jamil, the governor of Sanaa province—which includes the site of the strike in al-Masnaah—was an offer and a threat, according to Muhammad al-Qawli:
Abd al-Ghani Jamil said, “Either you accept $20,000 [US] for each body or we will call them al-Qaeda.” We got the bodies back in return for lifting the roadblock. We buried them and after that no one [from the government] asked us about them anymore. If they gave out the money it must have gone to tribal leaders as we did not receive a penny.
The brother and father showed Human Rights Watch a letter, dated February 9, 2013 from Yemen’s Interior Ministry, saying the two al-Qawli cousins were innocent. Salim and Ali al-Qawli “did not have any knowledge of or contact with the individuals who asked for a ride, but they happened to die alongside [them],” the letter said. The relatives said that was all they ever received from the government.
The relatives said they later heard from well-placed sources that the two AQAP suspects were coming from Mareb, a province to the east, where they had attended a funeral for alleged AQAP members killed in a separate targeted killing.
Lahib reportedly had survived a drone strike the previous November that killed an AQAP suspect and his bodyguard in Beit al-Ahmar, a village about 10 kilometers from al-Masnaah. He was reportedly involved in detaining an 8-year-old boy and his father for AQAP, which subsequently released a video in which the two allegedly “confessed” to setting up the Beit-al-Ahmar strike. A Swedish journalist who investigated the attack wrote that Lahib lived in a village an hour’s drive from the capital and traveled every other day to Sanaa, passing military checkpoints en route. It is not clear why Yemeni forces did not capture him at a checkpoint on his frequent trips into Sanaa.
Asked if their views of the United States had changed as a result of the attack, Muhammad al-Qawli replied: “We respect the US people but we hate the US government very much. We want a US or international trial into what happened to Ali and Salim.”
3. Beit al-Ahmar: Strike on Local Leader, Child Detained
“Would the Americans accept it if a Yemeni warplane came and killed Americans without any judicial process?”
– Himyar al-Qadhi, brother of Adnan al-Qadhi, who was killed in a drone strike in November 2012
On November 7, 2012, a drone strike killed Adnan al-Qadhi, a 40-year-old tribal leader and a lieutenant colonel in an elite Yemeni military unit, as he was standing in front of his car in his hometown of Beit al-Ahmar. The strike also killed one of al-Qadhi’s bodyguards.
The attack raises concerns under the laws of war about whether al-Qadhi was a valid military target and whether Yemeni military officials unlawfully used a child to facilitate the attack.
There was little doubt of al-Qadhi’s sympathies: one side of his house in Beit al-Ahmar bore a giant black AQAP flag. Moreover, AQAP released a video in April 2013 depicting al-Qadhi as a “martyr.” At times al-Qadhi negotiated with AQAP on behalf of local tribes and the Yemeni government.
AQAP responded to the killing by capturing and detaining a Yemeni soldier and his 8-year-old son who AQAP claims were involved in the airstrike. The group issued a video in April 2013 in which the father and son “confessed” that three government military officers recruited the boy to plant an electronic tracking device on al-Qadhi. At the time of writing, neither father nor son had been released and there were grave concerns for their safety.
His Last Word was “Marhaba!” (“Hello!”)
A missile killed al-Qadhi at approximately 6:45 p.m. as he was standing outside his car on a hilltop, talking to his wife on his cellphone after eating dinner at a nearby farmhouse.
“His wife heard his last word, ‘Marhaba!’ [Hello!],” his brother Himyar al-Qadhi told Human Rights Watch. “He always said ‘Marhaba’ when he was surprised.
Witnesses said one drone was circling overhead and a second drone arrived shortly before the attack. Photos of the remnants examined by Human Rights Watch were those of Hellfire missiles, consistent with a drone strike. Yemeni and international security media also described the attack as a drone strike. The attack could not have been carried out by Yemeni forces because, as President Hadi confirmed in 2012, Yemeni air force jets cannot fly at night.
Al-Qadhi died instantly. His friend and bodyguard Radwan al-Hashidi, a local sheikh who was sitting in the front seat, was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital. Rabee Hamoud Lahib, a suspected AQAP member, had been traveling in the car earlier but missed the attack.
Arafat Ali Maqsa, a resident of Beit al-Ahmar, was driving home from a wedding when he heard the explosion:
The force of the blast was so powerful that my car trunk shook even though I was still about 400 meters away. I saw smoke. I thought it was a gas explosion. What I saw next was unimaginable. Adnan was dead. His friend was hit by metal fragments in his mouth. He was still speaking when we arrived. As we took him out of the car he breathed his last.
Lieutenant Colonel and AQAP Sympathizer
By all accounts, al-Qadhi moved freely within elite political and military circles even as he retained ties with AQAP.
Al-Qadhi served more than two decades in the First Armored Division, one of the country’s elite military units until its disbandment in 2013. He held the rank of lieutenant colonel and was receiving 125,000 Yemeni rials (US$583) a month in military pay at the time of his death, Himyar al-Qadhi said. The son of a prominent family, he knew former president Saleh, whose palace is in his Beit al-Ahmar neighbored, and, like the president, was a member of the powerful Sanhan tribe. His cousin, Muhammad al-Qadhi, is a member of parliament. Before joining the First Armored Division, al-Qadhi was among hundreds of Yemenis who fought in Afghanistan during the 1980s alongside the CIA-backed mujahideen.
Even as he moved in high-level government circles, al-Qadhi was widely viewed as an AQAP sympathizer and possible recruiter. Abd-al-Razzaq Ahmad al-Jamal, a Yemeni journalist who is an expert on AQAP, interviewed al-Qadhi 20 days before his death:
Adnan invited many members of Ansar al-Sharia [an offshoot of AQAP] as guests to his house. When I asked him if he was a member of AQAP he said, “This is an honor I do not have.” But I think he just wanted to be humble. AQAP in their video [about his death] recognized him as a member.
Al-Jamal said that he did not believe al-Qadhi played an operational military role with AQAP. Not only is there no evidence of al-Qadhi fighting on behalf of AQAP, in January 2012 he played a key role in negotiating AQAP’s retreat from the central Yemeni city of Radaa, which AQAP fighters had seized days earlier. Al-Qadhi led a 20-member tribal delegation to persuade AQAP’s Radaa leader, Tariq al-Dahab, to withdraw. Himyar al-Qadhi told Human Rights Watch:
Adnan told Tariq al-Dahab, “Listen, we know that the government is not being fair, we know that people here are being oppressed. But you have to get out of Radaa because if you don’t the Americans will take control of our weak government.”
As noted above, a Yemeni government official with knowledge of the attacks on both al-Qadhi and Hamid al-Radmi (whose case is discussed above) said that it was not certain that either were actual AQAP military commanders but that both had recruited for AQAP.
In 2008, the Yemeni authorities detained al-Qadhi for six months in connection with a suicide bombing at the US Embassy in Sanaa earlier that year, linking him to license plates on one of the attackers’ cars. That attack killed 17 Yemenis and one Yemeni-American. Al-Qadhi was released without charge; the reason for his release is not clear.
Yemenis who knew al-Qadhi or had followed his targeted killing case offered an array of theories about why he was killed; none involved his participation in military operations.
One Yemeni with close connections to Beit al-Ahmar and the surrounding township of Sanhan said that al-Qadhi and Lahib, the suspected AQAP member who escaped the strike, were part of a group who had tried to create a roadblock the previous Ramadan (July 20-August 18, 2012) to stop former president Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali from stashing weapons in Beit al-Ahmar. At the time, Ahmed Ali was the commander of the elite Republican Guard but was being stripped of his powers by President Hadi; opposition media accused him and other Saleh relatives of looting weapons during the latter half of 2012. A Yemeni analyst took the opposite view, saying al-Qadhi was killed “for working not in favor of extremist groups but against the current regime.”
Other Yemenis considered the strike a warning to the former president and his loyalists, who have been accused by the UN Security Council of trying to thwart Yemen’s transition, that Beit al-Ahmar was no longer a safe-haven for the Saleh family.
Opportunity to Capture
Under the Obama administration’s policy on targeted killings, strikes are only to be carried out if capture is not feasible.
Beit al-Ahmar, located 15 kilometers southeast of Sanaa, is home to one of the highest concentrations of political and military authority in Yemen. It is the hometown of three of Yemen’s most powerful figures: former president Saleh, Saleh’s son Gen. Ahmed Ali Saleh, and Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar. At the time of al-Qadhi’s death General al-Ahmar commanded the First Armored Division, the unit to which al-Qadhi belonged.
“The concentration of police and military personnel in Sanhan [the town that includes Beit al-Ahmar] is one of the highest in the country,” said Abdulghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst. “To say that the government could not reach that place and make a capture there is absurd.”
Al-Qadhi moved freely in Beit al-Ahmar and surrounding areas. He was in Sanaa as recently as four or five days before he was killed and had to pass several checkpoints to get from the capital to Beit Al-Ahmar, relatives said. The fact that al-Qadhi was on the military payroll gave the authorities any number of potential ruses to lure him in.
Yemeni officials said President Hadi approved the strike against al-Qadhi after determining that an attempt to arrest him in his village could have led to more deaths, according to the Los Angeles Times. Certainly, Beit al-Ahmar is a potential political powder keg, packed with armaments and animosity: one of its native sons, General al-Ahmar, defected to the opposition with his First Armored Division during Yemen’s 2011 uprising and is a bitter rival of the former president and his son Gen. Ahmed Ali Saleh, the then-commander of the Republican Guard.
While capture may have been complicated, it should under the US policy have been seriously considered. Beit al-Ahmar had weathered other political storms without bloodshed. As Yemen-based journalist Adam Barron wrote in 2012: “Even after many of the area’s most powerful sons broke ranks in the revolt against Saleh last year—a time marked by bloody clashes in the capital—the village had remained calm until the American drone strike.”
Even if US and Yemeni authorities had ruled out capture because of potential revenge attacks, a negotiated surrender was still possible, many security and political observers said. Moreover there was precedent: relatives had previously surrendered al-Qadhi when he was sought in connection with the US Embassy bombing.
“When the security forces called me and said, ‘Adnan is a suspect,’ I handed him over with my own hands,” Himyar al-Qadhi said. “I swear to God if they had asked us to bring him in again we would never have said no.”
On February 5, 2013, Himyar al-Qadhi filed a complaint with the Yemen’s General Prosecution Office accusing President Hadi, President Obama, and other top Yemeni and US officials of murder for the strike on his brother. The following month, he said, his house was raided by Yemen’s Counter-Terrorism Unit, a force trained and funded by the United States. Now, he said, he fears for his own life.
Backlash and Detention of 8-Year-Old “Spy”
Al-Qadhi’s killing created widespread anger within the Sanhan tribe, one of the most influential in Yemen. AQAP expert and journalist al-Jamal said:
Relatives and members of his tribe are angry. In their songs and poems, the tribes have threatened to join al-Qaeda in revenge. Here when America is our enemy you are a hero. It makes al-Qaeda look good and gains the sympathy of the people.
Himyar al-Qadhi said, “The US is planting the seeds of terrorism with such killings. If you believe you got rid of Adnan, well now you’ll have 1,000 Adnans. This is not hard to understand.”
AQAP released a video in April 2013 that depicted al-Qadhi as a “martyr,” indicating that they considered him a member of their group.
The video showed a captured Republican Guard soldier and his 8-year-old son “confessing” to setting up the killing at the behest of three Republican Guard officers. The son, Barq al-Kulaibi, who had been living at al-Qadhi’s house, says in the video that his father gave him electronic tracking chips and that the three Republican Guard officers “trained” him on how to activate them and told him the dates he should plant them on al-Qahdi.
The boy says he placed one of the chips in al-Qadhi’s pocket while al-Qadhi was using the bathroom. The father, Hafizallah al-Kulaibi, was filmed saying the military officers paid him 50,000 rials ($233), and promised him a luxury car and home, in return for using his son to plant the chip. The video’s unseen narrator declares:
This is the reality of America, which claims to be the most powerful country in the world, and which brags and professes to be the protector of human rights and the vanguard of protecting the rights of children.
In the video, AQAP says it would release the son but added: “Every filmed spy is killed after he is filmed!”
At the time of writing, neither son nor father had been released. An investigative article on the case by Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen said the father was feared dead. Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned for the safety of both.
The father and son were abducted and taken into custody by alleged AQAP member Lahib, who narrowly escaped death in the strike that killed al-Qadhi, according to Johnsen’s article. Lahib was killed in a separate drone attack two months later.
The “confessions” by the son and father could have been coerced and the story invented by their AQAP captors, or the account could be true; Human Rights Watch has no evidence either way. Two of the Republican Guard officers named by the father and son denied any involvement. Johnsen notes that publicizing a fabrication of that kind would be out of character for AQAP, which seeks credibility with the public.
The treatment and videotaping of the detainees may have violated the laws-of-war requirement that detained persons be protected against acts of violence and public curiosity or condemnation.
If verified, the use of the boy by the Republican Guard would also violate international law prohibitions on the use of children as soldiers and perfidious attacks, which are war crimes. The Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court makes clear that individual criminal liability in such circumstances extends beyond the use of children as armed combatants. Under the ICC, the war crime of recruiting or using child soldiers “[c]over[s] both direct participation in combat and also active participation in military activities linked to combat such a scouting, spying, sabotage and the use of children as decoys, couriers or at military checkpoints.”
The AQAP’s abduction of the father and son, unless they were directly participating in hostilities, would also be unlawful. Any mistreatment of them, for whatever reason, would violate the laws of war.
4. Sarar: Attack Kills 12 Civilians
On September 2, 2012, a Toyota Land Cruiser carrying 14 people was attacked by a warplane or drone near the provincial city of Radaa in central Yemen.  The strike by a missile or a bomb killed 12 passengers, including three children and a pregnant woman. A thirteenth passenger and the driver were severely burned but survived. 
The airstrike violated the laws-of-war prohibition on attacks that do not distinguish between civilians and combatants.
Quoting unnamed Yemeni officials, local and international media initially described the victims as AQAP “militants.”  But after relatives of the victims threatened to bring their loved ones’ burned bodies to President Hadi’s doorstep, the country’s official news agency, Saba, called the strike an “accident” and admitted the awful truth: the 12 people killed were civilians.  All were from two adjacent villages. They included breadwinners for more than 50 people in one of the poorest areas of Yemen.
Unnamed Yemeni government officials were quoted in local and international media saying that the target of the attack had been traveling along the same road but in a separate vehicle that was not hit. 
“Noise like Thunder”
Radaa, a central Yemeni city about 160 kilometers southeast of Sanaa, lies on a strategic crossroad to Sanaa. The city and surrounding areas are tribal and largely outside the central government’s control. In January 2012, members of AQAP seized Radaa and held it for about a week until local sheikhs chased them out.  Many of the AQAP combatants disappeared into nearby villages. After that brief takeover, drones and US or Yemeni warplanes carried out numerous strikes on alleged Islamist fighters in Radaa and surrounding hamlets, and surveillance drones circled the area daily.
The day of the September 2012 attack, residents heard drones overhead and farmers working in their fields noticed two drones loitering over Radaa and outlying villages. Shortly before 4 p.m., witnesses said, two warplanes also swooped into the area.
“I heard a very loud noise, like thunder,” said Sami al-Ezzi, a farmer who was working in his fields in the village of Sabool, about 16 kilometers from Radaa and 2 kilometers from the attack site. “I looked up and saw two warplanes. One was firing missiles.”
Rushing to the scene, in the hamlet of Sarar about 7 kilometers north of Radaa, residents found a horrific sight: the battered Toyota Land Cruiser that had served as the daily shuttle service between Sabool and Radaa lay on its side in flames. Charred bodies had been flung from the vehicle and lay on the road, dusted with flour and sugar that the victims were bringing home from market. Everyone killed was a resident of Sabool or the neighboring hamlet of Humaydah.
“About four people were without heads. Many lost their hands and legs," said Nawaf Massoud Awadh, a sheikh from Sabool. “These were our relatives and friends.”
Two victims were a woman and girl, clutched in a lifeless embrace. “The bodies were charred like coal. I could not recognize the faces,” said Ahmad al-Sabooli, a 23-year-old farmer. Moving in closer, al-Sabooli realized that the woman and girl were his mother and 10-year-old sister. He also saw his father among the dead. “That is when I put my head in my hands and I cried,” he said.
Videos provided to Human Rights Watch depicted chaos at the scene. “Push! Push!” “Open the door!” residents are heard shouting in one video. Seeking to extinguish the flames, they urge, “Bring sand!”
Two men are heard exclaiming that a warplane with “two exhausts in the back”—presumably twin engines—launched or dropped munitions at the vehicle while other aircraft were circling.
Al-Sabooli's mother had gone to Radaa with her husband for a doctor’s appointment; they had brought their daughter along for the ride. Most of the other passengers were farmers who went to Radaa to sell their crops. They included Mabruk al-Dobari, 14, who sold qat to support his family because his father was disabled. Rescuers found Mabruk’s body torn apart.
“We are just qat farmers,” the driver of the vehicle, Nasser Makhut, said in a video clip from a local clinic where he was taken immediately after the strike. Makhut’s skin was black from the heat of the strike and he was clearly disoriented. Asked what happened, he replied, “I think a plane fell on us.”
Alleged Target Elsewhere
Local and international media quoted unnamed Yemeni government officials as saying the attack's intended target was Abd al-Raouf al-Dahab, an alleged local Al-Qaeda chief whose late brother Tariq had led the January takeover of Radaa. The al-Dahabs are the most influential family in Radaa and surrounding areas. Abd al-Raouf al-Dahab is from Manasseh, a village about 15 kilometers north of Radaa. The Land Cruiser was struck as it approached an intersection where one road led to Sabool and the other to Manasseh. But al-Dahab was not inside the vehicle or anywhere in sight. Subsequent drone strikes have also failed to kill al-Dahab.
“That was a clear mistake,” a Yemeni government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Human Rights Watch. “The target was in the area but they hit the wrong vehicle.”
Some security analysts in Yemen question whether Adb al-Raouf al-Dahab is a member of AQAP let alone involved in hostilities against the Yemeni or US governments. “Abd al-Raouf is a sympathizer but he’s not a member,” said Abd al-Razzaq al-Jamal, a journalist who closely tracks AQAP. Several security analysts also said that they believed Tariq al-Dahab formed the al-Bayda faction of AQAP in an effort to gain the upper hand in a bloody family dispute over land and power.
A Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said that some hardcore members of AQAP operate as “legitimate fronts” who may appear to be no more than sympathizers to outside observers.
Initial media reports quoted Yemeni officials as saying Yemeni warplanes carried out the Radaa attack. However the Yemeni authorities have a record of taking responsibility for US strikes, and the Washington Post published a report three months after the strike quoting unnamed Obama administration officials as saying a US military aircraft, “either a drone or a fixed-wing airplane,” fired on the vehicle.
Available evidence from the site does not clarify whether the attack was carried out by a drone or a fighter jet. Six witnesses said they saw the warplanes drop or launch munitions that they thought were bombs or missiles. Two witnesses told Human Rights Watch they saw a black tail fin near the burning vehicle, and that would-be rescuers used it to try to ram open a door of the vehicle. A black tail fin is typical of a Hellfire, a US missile that can be launched by either drones or fighter jets. The shrapnel that witnesses brought Human Rights Watch from the site is more consistent with damage caused by a bomb, which would point to warplanes.
“We Will Give You the Guns”
The victims’ villages, Sabool and Humaydah, are clusters of brick-and-mud homes that have no electricity, paved roads, schools, or hospitals. Most workers are subsistence farmers who grow and sell qat. Seven of those killed were breadwinners; in al-Sabooli’s family alone, six of his siblings were too young to fend for themselves.
Distraught relatives and friends had to collect the charred remains of the victims by themselves and drive them to the city morgue in Radaa. Upon reaching the outskirts of the city, troops from the elite Republican Guard blocked their entry for two hours. Then officials at the morgue refused the bodies.
The Sabool villagers spent the night on the streets of Radaa, fending off stray dogs from the corpses spread out on the beds of pickup trucks. The next day, Radaa shopkeepers joined the Sabool residents in blocking the city’s main street and threatening to bring the decomposing bodies to the doorstep of President Hadi in Sanaa.
Within hours, Sinan Garoon, a sheikh and the deputy governor of al-Bayda, the province that includes Radaa and Sabool, arrived to pay off victims’ relatives the tribal way, with 95 Kalashnikov rifles and a total of 15 million rials (about US$70,000) in burial money. He also promised further compensation, villagers said. “We will give you the guns,” Deputy Governor Garoon is seen telling told the angry demonstrators in a video taken by a local resident. “If you demand blood money, it will be given to you.”
In Sanaa, President Hadi announced he would create a special committee to investigate the Radaa attack.But no authorities came to Sarar to investigate. “They were toying with us,” said Awadh.
On April 26, 2013, Garoon again promised payments to Sabool residents if they did not participate in a news conference on targeted killings being held that day in Sanaa by the UK-based nongovernmental organization Reprieve. The residents did not participate, yet the payment did not arrive, they said.
While the airstrike was in clear violation of the laws-of-war requirement that attacks distinguish between civilians and combatants, the Yemeni government only in June 2013, following queries from Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations to Yemeni and US authorities, paid the families compensation:12 million rials ($55,800) for each person injured and 200 million rials ($93,000) for each person killed. It is not publicly known if the funds came from the United States.
Backlash against Yemen and US Governments
Long before the Yemeni authorities took financial responsibility for the killings, the family of Abd al-Raouf al-Dahab, the purported target of the strike, offered financial assistance to families around Radaa who lost relatives in targeted killing operations.
In Radaa, animosity toward the Yemeni and the US governments was in evidence after the airstrike. At a rally in Radaa the night after the attack, one man drew cheers as he railed against both countries:
It’s as if Yemeni airspace belonged to the United States. In the Western countries, when one person is killed the whole country will mobilize and turn itself upside down, but in our country our government does not value its citizens.
Before the strike, the people of Sabool and Humaydah “had no issues with America,” said Abd al-Aziz Muhammad Ali, whose cousin was among the victims. “But since the incident people feel like both the Yemeni government and the US government are our enemies.” Speaking shortly before the government provided payments to families, he added: “People feel that if there is no compensation maybe they will join al-Qaeda.”
5. Khashamir: Killing of Anti-AQAP Cleric
“If Salim and Walid are Al-Qaeda, then we are all Al-Qaeda.”
– Villagers chant after strike that killed two civilians in Khashamir, September 2012
On August 29, 2012, four missiles launched from a drone killed five men outside a mosque in Kashamir, a farming village of mud-and-stone huts in Hadramawt province in southeast Yemen. The strike killed three suspected AQAP members who were strangers to the village. It also killed two pillars of the community: a popular cleric who preached against AQAP, and one of the village’s only policemen.
Assuming the laws of war were applicable, the attack may have been unlawfully disproportionate depending on the military importance of the alleged AQAP members.
Yemen’s Defense Ministry told media that the three suspected AQAP members were “wanted and were targeted while meeting their fellows.” But the two local men who were killed had no known involvement with violent militancy. Rather, relatives said the three targeted suspects had sought out the cleric to challenge his statements criticizing AQAP.
Slain Cleric Preached Against Al-Qaeda
Salim bin Ahmed Ali Jaber, 42, the father of seven children and the imam of al-Mutadharirin mosque in Mukalla, had been preaching against violent Islamist militancy since AQAP and Ansar al-Sharia took over towns in Abyan in 2011. He taught at a government school and was studying for a doctorate at Hadramawt University.
His cousin, Walid Abdullah bin Ali Jaber, 26, who had a 2-year-old son, was Khashamir’s traffic policeman. “Every day he would go to work in his uniform, so proud of his work,” said his mother, Hayat bin Ali Jaber.
Salim Jaber had returned to his native village that week to attend the wedding of a cousin. The Friday before his death, he repeated his denunciation of AQAP during a sermon at the mosque in Khashamir, saying the group’s killings were against Islam.
“He used harsh words against Al-Qaeda and challenged them to provide proof of the justness of their attacks on America, and invited them to a debate,” said Faisal Jaber, the brother-in-law of Salim Jaber and the uncle of Walid Jaber. Faisal Jaber said that at the request of Salim Jaber’s father, he asked the cleric to tone down his sermons:
The day before the attack I said, “You should be careful, your family is worried that something will happen to you.” Salim said, “If we all keep silent then who will speak out? If we keep silent, these people will destroy the country.”
That night was the wedding party, Faisal Jaber said: “The whole village was dancing and Salim and Walid were very happy and hugging my son and congratulating him.”
Twice on the afternoon of August 29, a black Suzuki Vitara sports utility vehicle with unmarked plates stopped outside Salim Jaber’s family home. The second time, three unknown men inside the car, who were not from Khashamir, sent neighborhood children to ask for the cleric to come out. Salim Jaber’s father went to the car and told the men that his son would return after Isha (evening prayer) at the local mosque. The father was suspicious but invited the men in as he was accustomed to people seeking his son’s counsel. The men refused. After Isha prayer, several villagers saw the men drive to the back of the mosque.
The three men in the car asked a young boy to go to the mosque to bring the cleric to them. Salim Jaber feared the strangers were seeking revenge for his sermons and proposed meeting them over dinner at his house. But he agreed to meet them when Walid Jaber, his cousin the police officer, offered to accompany him with his handgun. “Walid said, ‘We are both men, what are you scared of? It is not good manners,’” Faisal Jaber said.
Salim and Walid Jaber approached the men and sat with two of them beneath a cluster of date palms. Several villagers gathered at a corner to watch, in case the Jabers needed protection. But if the unidentified men intended to harm Salim Jaber, the drones struck first. As Faisal Jaber told Human Rights Watch:
The first two missiles hit the circle of men directly. When the men heard it they all ran toward the spot where it landed. Then the second missile struck and shrapnel flew over their heads. The third missile came from an angle and took off the roof of the car and hit them again. The fourth missile took a bit of time. Maybe they were checking to see if they were still alive. They [villagers] saw a man crawling and the fourth missile hit that man and his body was thrown 20 meters or more, onto the wall of a sheep’s manger near the mosque. His body was intact. Only the back of his head was gone.
The men waited several minutes and then approached slowly, said Abdullah Salim bin Ali Jaber, a cousin of Salim and Walid who also had rushed to the scene:
It was dark except for the burning car. We could make out many body parts scattered several meters apart—fingers, hands, internal organs. Most bodies had no legs and one was without a face. Another had no head. Until now they still have not found that head…. Imagine this horror.
Ahmad Salim bin Ali Jaber, the cleric’s 79-year-old father, said he heard the explosions and arrived at the mosque as villagers were collecting body parts in red and blue water pails:
No one dared tell me. Finally one of them came to me and took my hand and said, “Where is Salim?” I said I did not know, that we were waiting for him to have dinner with us. He said, “Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah [Praise God, Praise God, Praise God], Salim is dead.”
The father said two men brought him into the mosque and supported him by each arm as he viewed the corpses, wrapped in plastic under blocks of ice as the village had no refrigerated morgue:
The people opened the first bag and asked, “Is this Salim?” I said, “No.” They opened the second bag, and the third, and the fourth. Then they opened the last one. It was Salim. At that point I could not move.”
Relatives said they identified Salim Jaber only by his cheekbone, and Walid Jaber by the remains of his handgun and his ornate belt, which was somehow intact.
Faisal Jaber showed Human Rights Watch a series of photos and videos he had taken the day before and the day after the attack. The first series showed Walid Jaber, smiling and dancing at the wedding party in a white robe and his ornate belt. The second series showed the SUV melted into a twisted mass, and ordnance that Human Rights Watch identified as remnants of Hellfire missiles. The photos also showed dismembered body parts and faces burned beyond recognition. They showed holes from missile fragments in the walls of nearby homes, and the date palms’ branches broken—trees that had been the pride of the village but no longer bear fruit.
Every man, woman, and child in Khashamir has seen the photos and videos, Faisal Jaber said, adding: “Now when villagers see these images, they think of America.”
Only one stranger was identified, by a family that traveled 300 kilometers to Khashamir to view photos of the remains. “One photo showed a head with only a mouth. The man saw the mouth and said, ‘This is my son,’ Faisal Jaber said.
“Obama, This is Wrong”
After the airstrike, enraged villagers created a roadblock that stopped government cars along the main east-west road through the province, but ended it when local leaders persuaded them to instead hold a peaceful rally. Most of the village joined the march four days after the strike, chanting: “No to killing innocents” and “Obama, this is wrong.”
Local authorities arranged for a stipend for Salim’s eldest son, who is deaf and mute, and promised they would find the young man a job upon completion of his studies. But that and an unofficial call from an officer with Yemen’s US-funded and trained Counter-Terrorism Unit were the extent of any redress, Faisal Jaber said:
An officer from the Counter-Terrorism Unit called me the night of the attack and said, “I am sorry. It was not Salim and Walid who were being targeted.” He said, “I can’t do anything for you but you can call [President] Hadi at the presidential palace landline. [Three days after the attack] I called the palace. I said to the man who answered, “We used to carry posters supporting Hadi and now we will throw them onto the ground.” I asked him to tell that to Hadi.
Faisal Jaber heard nothing more until June, after Human Rights Watched and other international nongovernmental organizations raised the issue of compensation with US government officials. At that time, the Yemeni government ordered condolence payments of 2.5 million rials ($11,600) each to Salim Jaber’s and Walid Jaber’s families, Faisal Jaber said. At the the time of writing, the payments had yet to arrive.
Villagers want redress, but they also want the drones flying over their area to stop, saying they are traumatizing children and causing women to miscarry. They blame the death of Salim Jaber’s mother in late 2012 on the trauma caused by the strike and the continuing whirr of drones overhead.
“When the drones come, the children run into their houses, terrified,” said Walid’s mother, Hayat Jaber. “When Walid’s son looks at a photo of his father, he says, ‘The plane, the plane.’”
“We Yemenis are the ones who pay the price of the ‘war on terror,’” Faisal Jaber said. “We are caught between a drone on one side and Al-Qaeda on the other.”
6. Al-Majalah: Cluster Munitions Kill 14 Al-Qaeda Suspects, 41 Civilians
“America’s goal is to defeat Al-Qaeda. Instead they are creating more Al-Qaeda.”
– Moqbil Moqbil Abu-Lukaish, relative of 28 of the 41 villagers killed in al-Majalah
On December 17, 2009, three days after the US State Department designated AQAP as a terrorist organization, up to five Tomahawk cruise missiles armed with cluster munitions struck the hamlet of al-Majalah in southern Abyan province. Yemeni government officials initially described the strike as a Yemeni security force operation that killed 34 “terrorists” at a training camp stockpiled with weapons.
In fact the missiles were launched by a US Navy vessel. While the attack killed 14 alleged Al-Qaeda combatants, it also killed at least 41 civilians in a Bedouin camp, all from two extended families, according to a 2010 investigative report by Yemen’s parliament whose findings were accepted by the government. Nine of the dead were women—five of them pregnant—and 21 were children. At least 4 more civilians were killed and 13 others wounded after the strike when they handled the cluster munition remnants.
AQAP was committing violence against the Yemeni government at the time of the 2009 attack, and its predecessor, AQY, had claimed responsibility for attacks such as the deadly suicide bombing of the US Embassy in Sanaa in 2008. However, the hostilities at the time were not considered to have reached the intensity of an armed conflict necessary for the applicability of the laws of war. Thus this attack may more properly be viewed as a violation of international human rights law. However, even within a laws-of-war analysis, the attack used indiscriminate cluster munitions, and caused indiscriminate and possibly disproportionate civilian casualties.
Two classified diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks reveal that the United States engaged with Yemen in a concerted effort to conceal the US role. The United States has never publicly acknowledged its role in the attack.
Much has been written about the strike on al-Majalah, but little has been published on its aftermath. Residents say they never received compensation for civilian deaths or the local development projects promised by the Yemeni government. The area remains abandoned and contaminated by cluster munition remnants.
“Operation Copper Dune”
Al-Majalah is a tiny village at the foot of steep mountains about 230 kilometers east of the southern port city of Aden. It has no schools, electricity or other services; as one resident put it, “The government does not exist here.” The area that was hit lies on the edge of the village—a stretch of shrubs and rocky earth whose coppery color was in keeping with the US codename for the strike, “Operation Copper Dune.” There, Bedouins from two al-Majalah families tended bees and put their sheep and goats to graze. They slept in huts made of straw and wood or of steel caging on which they draped their tenting.
The missiles struck two adjacent sets of Bedouin huts around 6 a.m. while most of the inhabitants were sleeping. The Tomahawk is a long-range, subsonic missile that the United States has used in major conflicts, including the two Gulf Wars and the initial air operations in Afghanistan. The warhead can be loaded with various types of munitions; the model used to strike al-Majalah, the BGM-109D, is designed to launch 166 BLU-97 “Combined Effects Bomblets,” commonly known as cluster munitions.
Saleh bin Fareed, a prominent tribal leader, drove to the site from Aden fearing he could not reach it. In Yemeni media, he said, Yemeni government officials including then-Interior Minister Rashad al-Masri were describing the area as an impenetrable mountain enclave stashed with weapons, “as if it were Tora Bora.”
But the site was in a valley, not dug into the mountains, and while it was three kilometers off a dirt road, bin Fareed drove right up to it. Upon arrival, he said, he saw “no evidence of a training camp whatsoever”—only a sight so horrific that “you could not believe your eyes”:
Goats, sheep, cows, dogs, and people, you could see their bodies scattered everywhere, some many meters away. The clothes of the women and children were hanging from the treetops with the flesh on every tree, every rock. But you did not know if the flesh was of human beings or animals. Some bodies were intact but most, they melted.
Video footage of the immediate aftermath shows piles of dead or dying sheep and goats, as well as human body parts and the charred metal frames of the Bedouin huts.
There were 30 houses in the area of the strike. All were burned and 12 were destroyed, said Moqbil Abu-Lukaish, a community leader who lost 28 relatives that day. “Nothing was left but smoke and flames,” said another witness and relative, Awadh Saleh Medhi.
Residents of al-Majalah and nearby areas gathered up the body parts. Unable to identify which pieces belonged to which body, they buried them in common graves.
Many models of Tomahawks can “precisely strike high-value targets with minimal collateral damage,” according to its manufacturer. But the model launched on al-Majalah is designed to spread submunitions or bomblets over a wide area. Moreover, the governor of Abyan at the time, Ahmad al-Maisari, told parliamentary investigators, “there were errors in the geographic coordinates and the determination of the location.” The Yemeni parliamentary investigation into the attack, titled Republic of Yemen, Special Parliamentarian Investigating Committee Report On Security Events In the Province of Abyan, did not report who made the errors.
“They hit multiple encampments and they were only supposed to hit one,” said a Yemeni government official who spoke with Human Rights Watch on condition of anonymity, “That one you could argue was bad intelligence from the Yemenis.”
A report from state-run Saba News described the attack on al-Majalah as part of a four-pronged operation including a strike against an AQAP cell in Arhab province that allegedly was in the “final stages” of plotting to bomb the British Embassy in Sanaa. But the reports did not say that the alleged training camp at al-Majalah was linked to that plot or others.
Cluster Munitions Kill Four More
The cluster munitions used in the strike, BLU-97 bomblets, are bright yellow cylinders about the size of a large soda can. Each bomblet is encased in steel designed to break into approximately 300 fragments capable of piercing armor. Each Tomahawk warhead carries 166 BLU-97 bomblets. That means that as many as 830 bomblets fell onto al-Majalah, showering the sleeping Bedouins, their herds, and few belongings with tens of thousands of shards of steel. The BLU-97s also have incendiary capabilities.
Cluster munitions are inaccurate and unreliable weapons that by their very nature pose unacceptable dangers to civilians. They pose an immediate threat by randomly scattering exploding submunitions over a vast area. And they continue to take even more civilian lives and limbs long after a conflict has ended, littering the landscape with landmine-like “duds”—bomblets that fail to explode immediately but remain dangerous. A total of 84 countries have ratified the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, the international treaty prohibiting the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions, and requiring clearance of remnants as well as assistance to victims of the weapons. Neither Yemen nor the United States is among them.
At least four people were killed after the initial strike by handling unexploded bomblets that had been scattered over a 1.5-kilometer-wide area during the strikes.
Four days after the strike, on December 21, 2009, during a massive protest rally at al-Majalah, three more people were killed and nine others injured by unexploded bomblets from the cluster munition remnants. At least two people died on the scene, prompting people there to call a group that had driven away with some of the bomblets to warn them they could explode. The people in the car removed the bomblets, which they had taken as evidence, and in doing so detonated them, killing one other person.
Residents cordoned off the area, but children nevertheless returned to the site of the attack. On January 24, 2012—more than two years after the strike—a young boy brought one of the bomblets with him when he returned home for lunch, with deadly consequences. Mahdi, a relative who went to the house later that day, described what happened:
The family was eating. One of the sons was playing with the cluster bomb. The father told the son, “Throw the bomb away; don’t play with it.” The son went to throw it away but he did not throw it far enough. The bomb exploded. There was blood and food all over the family. The bomb killed the father.
The boy and two siblings were injured, Mahdi said.
Target “Akron” Moved Freely Through Area
The main target of the strike was Saleh Muhammad Ali al-Anbouri, commonly known as Muhammad al-Kazami. The parliamentary report said 13 other suspected Al-Qaeda “operatives” were killed in the attack but it did not name them, saying a local authority believed several names were fictitious.
Al-Kazami fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s; he was among hundreds of Yemenis who joined the mujahideen with the approval of the Saleh government and tribal leaders.
He was arrested in 2005 by Yemeni security forces on suspicion of terrorism-related crimes and served about two years in prison. Upon his release, al-Kazami returned to Abyan and ultimately ended up in al-Majalah, where he had relatives, and lived with his wife and four children there. The parliamentary report said he had pledged “to not get involved in activities with Al-Qaeda.”
According to Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency , by investigative journalist Daniel Kleidman, the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) had al-Kazami on one of its “most-wanted terrorist” baseball cards, under the codename “Akron.” JSOC said he was “in the late stages of planning a terrorist attack on the US embassy in Sanaa” and that he also was believed to have plotted a July 2007 suicide bombing in Yemen that killed nine people—two Yemenis and seven Spanish tourists, Klaidman wrote.
In the parliamentary report, the then-governor of Abyan referred to al-Kazami as an “Al-Qaeda leader” and said he was believed to have “funneled money” and as many as 20 Saudi, Emirati and Pakistani Al-Qaeda members into the region, including “a Pakistani expert in poisons and explosives.” The Yemeni government official who spoke to Human Rights Watch on condition of anonymity called al-Kazami “a big guy” in AQAP.
Whatever his ties to violent militants, al-Kazami traveled freely through the area upon his release from prison, suggesting ample opportunities for capture. Indeed, residents said his movements required him to pass multiple checkpoints at which security forces could have detained him. Surveillance aircraft had been flying low over the area two months before the strike, residents said, suggesting the authorities could track al-Kazami’s movements.
“It was possible to reach him by using a different security method,” the parliamentary report concluded.
Al-Majalah residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were not aware that he was engaged in military operations and had not seen a training camp, but added that they could not be sure. A provincial authority said the men were Islamist fighters.
Twenty days before the strike, six men who were not known to local residents joined al-Kazami in al-Majalah and began using hydraulic equipment and dynamite to dig a well about one kilometer from the area that the missiles struck. There were no wells near the camp, creating hardships for residents, they said.
Immediately after the strike, a group of armed, masked men appeared at the scene and removed the bodies of the six newcomers and several wounded men.
“We'll Continue Saying the Bombs Are Ours, Not Yours”
The Obama and Saleh administrations sought to portray the al-Majalah strike as having been carried by the Yemeni government without direct US participation.
On the very day of the attack, President Obama called President Saleh to “congratulate” him on the raids.
Two weeks later, state-run Saba News published an extensive account of the strike, which it described as the work of Yemeni security forces, complete with a photograph of a squadron of gleaming MiG-29s—an attack jet in the Yemeni Air Force arsenal that is incapable of firing Tomahawk cruise missiles. The report said the strike killed 34 “terrorists” and captured 21 others in the four-pronged, nationwide operation, nearly all from al-Majalah. It said Yemeni authorities regretted the killing of an unspecified number of civilians but said their deaths were unavoidable and that they were preparing food for the “Al-Qaeda elements.”
The Saba News report blamed the “terrorists” for the cluster munitions, saying they “planted mines and explosives” to thwart investigation teams from visiting the site.
Interior Minister al-Alimi reported that Yemen carried out the attack but with “intelligence cooperation” from the Americans and Saudis. But in a classified January 2010 US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks, al-Alimi joked about how he had “lied” to the Yemeni parliament about US responsibility for the attack.
“We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh told Gen. David Petraeus, then head of US central command, according to the cable.
In a separate cable sent four days after the strike, then-US Ambassador Stephen A. Seche said al-Alimi vowed that the Yemeni government would “‘maintain the status quo’ with regard to the official denial of US involvement in order to ensure additional ‘positive operations’ against AQAP” by the United States. The cable added that “Alimi appeared confident that any evidence of greater US involvement—such as US munitions found at the sites—could be explained away as equipment purchased from the US”
The January 2010 cable suggests that US authorities were unaware and unconcerned about the civilian toll. When Saleh expressed concern over civilian casualties in the strike, saying “mistakes were made,” General Petraeus responded that only al-Kazami’s wife and two children were killed. “Saleh's conversation on the civilian casualties suggests he has not been well briefed by his advisors on the strike,” Seche wrote.
AQAP immediately sought to capitalize on the strike, showing up at a rally on December 21, 2009, to denounce the deaths.
“Soldiers, you should know we do not want to fight you,” one AQAP operative bearing a Kalashnikov declared. “There is no problem between you and us. The problem is between us and America and its agents. Beware taking the side of America!”
US and Yemeni Government Response
The Yemeni and US governments’ response to the civilian casualties at Al-Majalah have been inadequate from the start. Surveillance aircraft flew over the site after the attack and the governor of Abyan said the interior minister and then-President Saleh phone him about the strike two hours after it took place, suggesting that the Yemeni government was aware of the civilian casualties. Yet the authorities failed to provide even the most basic rescue assistance such as transporting the wounded to hospitals, helping identify the dead and wounded, or securing the area.
The parliamentary report called on the Yemeni government to investigate and “hold accountable those found guilty” of “mistakes that were made causing the deaths of . . . innocent victims.” It also called on the Yemeni authorities to compensate victims and pay their medical bills in a “swift manner,” remove cluster munition remnants from the site, and develop and bring basic services to the area. Despite accepting the report’s findings in 2010, the Yemeni government failed to implement its recommendations.
Seche wrote in a diplomatic cable that al-Alimi had given provincial authorities $100,000 to distribute to victims’ families. The Yemeni government subsequently increased the offer to 5.5 million rials (about $25,000), for each civilian killed, villagers said. They said most residents rejected the sum as insufficient and because the authorities did not promise to hold those responsible for the attacks to account. Said Mahdi:
They offered us 10 Toyota Hiluxes as a down payment if we agreed to the 5.5 million rials. We refused. We have said to the government from the start, we want 10 billion rials [$51,000] compensation. We were flexible. We could have agreed on a lower sum. But the government refused.
The villagers rebuffed government offers to clear the cluster munition remnants, saying they feared the authorities would do a poor job and seek to conceal the evidence. They called for an international team to clear the site.
In mid-2013, several of the al-Majalah families began accepting payments from the Yemeni authorities for property damages from the strike. The compensation of 37 million rials ($170,000) was divided among 10 households, averaging about $17,000 each. It does not cover the loss of homes but only of possessions—mostly goats, sheep, and honey bees. The residents were continuing to demand greater compensation for civilian deaths and funds for medical care for the injured.
The residents said they are paying medical bills for the four children orphaned in the attack. They include Nada Loqyah Mahdi, and Aysha Nassar Mahdi. Human Rights Watch met the two girls and a third child survivor, Muhammad Ali Loqyah, in May 2013. The children, who at the time of the interview were 5, 4, and 7, respectively, said they still have nightmares about the attack.
Aysha raised a hand to show a finger she lost in the airstrike. Nada showed the gashes on her stomach from fragments of the ordnance. “Nada had been really healthy,” Medhi said. “Now she is very thin and vomits all the time. There may still be some fragments in her stomach but we can’t afford another operation.”
Journalist who Probed Killings Detained
In February 2011, Yemeni journalist Abd al-Ilah Haidar al-Shayi', the first journalist to file authoritative reports on the US role in al-Majalah, was sentenced to five years in prison on terrorism-related charges in proceedings that failed to meet international fair trial standards. President Saleh pardoned Shayi’ in 2011, but he remained in prison after President Obama called Saleh and expressed “concern” over his release.
President Hadi on July 23, 2013, commuted the remainder of Shayi’’s sentence to two years’ house arrest. The State Department said the United States was “concerned and disappointed by his early release.”
The US government never laid out specific concerns about Shayi’. Some Yemeni observers believe that President Obama’s statement about the case, expressing concern at Shayi’’s release rather than pressing for a fair trial, has fueled anti-American resentment and eroded confidence in US claims that it supports democracy and rule of law in the post-Saleh era.
On April 17, 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request to eight US government agencies seeking information about the al-Majalah attack. At the time of writing that request was pending.
 A consultant for Human Rights Watch visited the site of the attack in Wessab on June 11 and 12, 2013, and interviewed 25 residents about the incident. The consultant, Farea al-Muslimi, is from Wessab and testified in April 2013 about the attack during a hearing on targeted killings before the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. See Farea Al-Muslimi, Written Testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, April 23, 2013, www.judiciary.senate.gov/pdf/04-23-13Al-MuslimiTestimony.pdf, and (Oral) Testimony of Farea al-Muslimi, YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIb0wMfOFhw (accessed July 23, 2013).
Those interviewed included two local security officials and relatives of three of those killed. Human Rights Watch also examined the wreckage of the strike, reviewed numerous media articles and video clips, and spoke with 10 political analysts, security experts, journalists and diplomats in Sanaa between April 20 and May 8 about al-Radmi’s killing.
 Yemeni and international media mistakenly reported five deaths at the time of the strike but subsequently revised the toll to four, which local residents confirmed.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with 25 residents of Wessab including two of al-Radmi’s relatives and two local security officers, Wessab, June 11-12, 2013. Relatives and friends said al-Radmi thought his cousin was an intruder and accidentally shot him in the dark.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Qaed al-Farimi, Bani al-Hadad, Wessab, June 11, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with 25 residents of Wessab including two of al-Radmi’s relatives and two local security officersJune 11-12, 2013. See also Nasser Arrabyee, “ ‘Democracy’ in spite of the people,” Al-Ahram Weekly, May 1, 2013, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/2435/19/%E2%80%98Democracy%E2%80%99-in-spite-of-the-people.aspx (accessed July 20, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch confirmed the identities of those killed during interviews with Wessab residents, June 11-12, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with Wessab residents, June 11-12, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch analysis of photos and videos taken at the scene in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Copies of the photos and videos on file with Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch confirmed the accuracy of the location and the damage shown on the video during its visit to Wessab. One of the videos, titled “مقتلالشهيدالبطلالشيخحميدالردميعليايديالخونهرحمهاللهالرعودللجوال” (“Murdered Sheikh Hamud al-Radman at the hands of traitors, God's mercy,” with the name and company of the person who posted the video, shows the attack site and the damage to the vehicle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xti4RZXiRKQ (accessed July 24, 2-13).
مصرع ( الردمي ) القياديفيتنظيمالقاعدةبغارةجويةفيوصابالعالي (“Al-Qaeda Leader (al-Radmi) Killed in Upper Wessab”), 26 September, April 17, 2013, http://26sep.net/news_details.php?lng=arabic&sid=90813 (accessed July 21, 2013).
 “US drone strike kills 5 al-Qaida militants in central Yemen,” Xinhua, April 18, 2013, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/775802.shtml#.UevhNYVu9Zq (accessed July 21, 2013).
 Twenty-five residents told Human Rights Watch in interviews on June 11-12, 2013, that they heard or saw and heard three drones the night of the attack, with the third drone arriving after the strike. Eight witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they heard the first explosion and upon running outside saw at least one missile launched, and the third drone enter the area.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmad Hamoud Qaed Daer, Maghrbat Doma, Wessab, June 12, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Shafiq Muhammad al-Magdishi, al-Dan, Wessab, June 11, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with al-Farimi, June 11, 2013. The use of expletives is not common in Yemen, underscoring the high level of anger and fear following the attack.
 Ibid. Al-Farimi and other Wessab residents referred to the aircraft used in the strike as “planes.” When asked what kind of planes they were referring to, all said “drones.” Al-Farimi said he recognized drones because he had seen videos of them on television and because they had been hovering over Wessab for months.
 See also Arrabyee, “‘Democracy’ in spite of the people,” Al-Ahram Weekly, May 1, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with two security officials, al-Dan, Wessab, June 11, 2013. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
 Human Rights Watch interview with al-Farimi, June 11, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with al-Radmi’s brother Muhammad Ali Radman al-Radmi and mother Zainab Yahya Nasser al-Salf, Mathlab, June 12, 2013.
Qat is a mild stimulant. Qat chewing is legal and one of the main social activities in Yemen.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with Wessab residents, June 11-12, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Yemeni government official, September 2013. Adnan al Qahdi’s killing is the subject of the “Beit al-Ahmar” chapter of this report.
 Human Rights Watch interview with friend of al-Radmi, Wassab, June 11, 2013. Human Rights Watch is withholding the name of the interviewee to protect him or her from retaliation.
 See, e.g., Nadwa al-Dawsari, Tribal Governance and Stability in Yemen, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 24, 2012, http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/04/24/tribal-governance-and-stability-in-yemen/aghk#, and “Al Qaida suspects surrender in south Yemen,” Agence France-Presse, October 27, 2010, http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/yemen/15-al-qaida-suspects-surrender-in-south-yemen-1.702098 (both accessed September 12, 2013).
 Video of Muhammad Ali Saleh, a cousin of al-Radmi, speaking on May 17, 2013 to a crowd in Bait al-Yahoodi, a hamlet in Wessab near the site of the strike, taken by Wadah al-Qadhi. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.
 See “Yemen militants killed in U.S. drone strike: government official,” Reuters, April 17, 2013, http://news.yahoo.com/yemen-militants-killed-u-drone-strike-government-official-215802781.html and “Five Dead in Suspected Yemen Drone Strike,” Australian Associated Press, April 18, 2013, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/five-dead-in-suspected-yemen-drone-strike/story-e6frf7k6-1226623174250 (both accessed July 16, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Yemeni government official, September 2013. Human Rights Watch is withholding further details at the interviewee’s request.
 The Yemeni authorities have repeatedly claimed Qasim al-Raymi was killed in a drone strike but local journalists said he is still alive and appeared at an AQAP ceremony attended by media in 2012.
 Nasser Arrabyee, “Yemen 'Tora Pora' [sic] under fire of US drones for first time,” blog, April 4, 2013, http://narrabyee-e.blogspot.com/2013/04/yemen-tora-pora-under-fire-of-us-drones.html (accessed June 10, 2013), and “ ‘Democracy’ in spite of the people,” Al-Ahram Weekly, May 1, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with al-Farimi and a Wessab security official, June 11, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Wessab security official, June 11, 2013.
 In 2007, Yemen's 22 million citizens possessed approximately 11 million firearms, but the number could be as low as 6 million or as high as 17 million, according to Small Arms Survey, the Geneva-based independent arms monitoring group. Yemen’s current population is 25 million. See Small Arms Survey, Fault lines: Tracking armed violence in Yemen, May 2010, p. 5 and footnote 64, http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/focus-projects/yemen-armed-violence-assessment.html (accessed July 20, 2013). Article 9 of Law No. 40 of 1992, On Regulating Carrying Firearms and Ammunitions and Their Trade, establishes the right to own firearms for self-defense.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with five AQAP experts in Sanaa and New York, April-June 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with a friend of al-Radmi’s, Wessab, June 11, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Yemeni government official, September 2013. Human Rights Watch is withholding further details at the interviewee’s request.
 President Hadi ordered the Republican Guard disbanded in December 2012; the process was completed weeks before al-al-Radmi’s death.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with local residents, Wessab, June 11-12, 2013.
 Farea al-Muslimi, “My Village was Attacked by US Drones in Yemen,” Al-Monitor, April 18, 2013, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/04/yemen-village-drone-attack-wessab.html (accessed April 18, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interview with al-Farimi, June 11, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with al-Magdishi, June 11, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Daer, June 12, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch was not able to reach relatives of the second bodyguard, Ghazi al-Emad.
 Human Rights Watch interviewed four relatives of the two civilians killed, including two who were with the victims immediately before the strike. We also interviewed three Yemeni journalists and three political analysts about the attack, and reviewed photos of the ordnance and wreckage from the scene.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with Muhammad al-Qawli, brother of strike victim Salim al-Qawli, and Hussain Jamil al-Qawli, father of strike victim Ali al-Qawli, Sanaa, September 23, 2013.
“U.S. drone strike kills four suspected militants, one civilian in Capital,” Yemen Observer, January 26, 2013, http://www.yobserver.com/front-page/10022401.html (accessed July 23, 2013). In early reports, many media erroneously reported at least five dead and described most as “militants.”
 Human Rights Watch interviews with Abdullah Ahmad Jamil, 26, and Abdullah Ahmad Muhammad Saleh Jamil al-Qawli, relatives of the two al-Qawli cousins killed in the strike, Sanaa, April 26, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad al-Qawli, April 23, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad al-Qawli and Hussain Jamil al-Qawli, September 23, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad al-Qawli, September 23, 2013.
 A copy of the Ministry of Interior letter is on file with Human Rights Watch.
See “Beit al-Ahmar” chapter for details on that strike.
 Daniel Ohman and Lotten Collin,“Innocent people are killed in US drone attacks,” Sverigesradio, March 22, 2013, (ahttp://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=83&artikel=5481640%20 ccessed July 23, 2013). tp://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=83&artikel=5481640 (accessed 8 May 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad al-Qawli, April 23, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Himyar al-Qadhi, Sanaa, April 20, 2013. Marhaba literally means “God’s love” but in Arabic is used as to say “Hello” or “Welcome.”
 See, e.g., “MPs demand to issue explicit attitude towards US drones,” Yemen Post, November 13 2012 (accessed July 21, 2013).One Yemeni official described the attack as "a Yemeni-U.S. joint airstrike operation," but another official said that "the raid was not carried out by any Yemeni warplane. See “US drone strike near Yemeni capital kills AQAP commander,” The Long War Journal, November 8, 2012,
 Scott Shane, “Yemen’s Leader Praises U.S. Drone Strikes,” New York Times September 29, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/29/world/middleeast/yemens-leader-president-hadi-praises-us-drone-strikes.html?_r=0 (accessed July 20, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interviews with four relatives and one witness, Sanaa, April 20 and 24, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Arafat Ali Maqsa, Sanaa, April 24, 2013.
 See the “Yemen and Al-Qaeda” chapter of this report for more information on Afghanistan, as well as Johnsen, The Last Refuge, Norton, November 2012, pp. 3-18.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Abd al-Razzaq Ahmad al-Jamal, Sanaa, May 8, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Himyar al-Qadhi, April 20, 2013.
 Yemen Profile: Timeline/Al Qaeda in Action, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14704951 (accessed July 29, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interview, Sanaa, April 2013. Human Rights Watch is withholding the interviewee’s name and other details to protect against potential reprisal. See also “Army without Arsenal,” Yemen Fox, April 20, 2013, http://www.yemenfox.net/nprint.php?sid=6167 (accessed August 30, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Abd al-Salam Muhammad, President of the Abaad Studies and Research Center, Sanaa, April 24, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with 12 Yemeni political and security analysts, as well as 3 Yemeni security force members and 10 Yemeni and Western journalists who track AQAP, Sanaa, April-May 2013.
There is precedent for the US killing an enemy of an ally in exchange for killing its own perceived enemies in the ally’s territory. The New York Times has reported that a CIA drone strike in Pakistan in 2004 killed Nek Muhammad, an ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion against the state, in exchange for permission to enter Pakistani air space to carry out drone strikes against its own targets. See Mark Mazzetti, “A Secret Deal on Drones, Sealed in Blood,” New York Times, April 6, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/world/asia/origins-of-cias-not-so-secret-drone-war-in-pakistan.html?pagewanted=all (accessed October 10, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Abdulghani al-Iryani. Al-Iryani serves on Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa advisory board.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with four relatives of al-Qadhi, April 24, 2013.
 Jeffrey Fleishman and Ken Dilanian, “Us Drone Strategy is Fraught with Peril,” Los Angeles Times, December 25, 2012, http://articles.latimes.com/2012/dec/25/world/la-fg-yemen-drones-qaeda-20121225 (accessed July 22, 2013).
 At the time of writing, President Hadi had disbanded both the Republican Guard and the First Armored Division, appointing General al-Ahmar as his special military advisor, and General Ahmed Ali as the Yemen ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.
 Human Rights Watch interview with al-Bokairi, April 25, 2013.
 Adam Baron, “Family, neighbors of Yemeni killed by U.S. drone wonder why he wasn’t taken alive,” McClatchy Newspapers, November 28, 2012, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/11/28/v-print/175794/family-neighbors-of-yemeni-killed.html (accessed July 23, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interviews with 12 Yemeni political and security analysts, as well as 3 Yemeni security force members and 10 Yemeni and Western journalists who track AQAP, Sanaa, April-May 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Himyar al-Qadhi, April 20, 2013. A copy of the complaint is on file with Human Rights Watch.
 Human Rights Watch interview with al-Jamal, Sanaa, May 8, 2013.
 A copy of the video with English-language subtitles is posted on Jihadology.net, a clearinghouse on Islamist militancy: http://jihadology.net/2013/04/19/al-mala%E1%B8%A5im-media-presents-a-new-video-message-from-al-qaidah-in-the-arabian-peninsula-the-spider-web/ (accessed July 21, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch email exchange with a source close to Yemeni intelligence services, July 22, 2013.
 Johnsen, “Did an 8-Year-Old Spy for America?” August 14, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/09/did-an-8-year-old-spy-for-america/309429/4/ (accessed August 15, 2013).
 See “Al-Masnaah” chapter in this report.
 Johnsen, “Did an 8-Year-Old Spy for America?” Atlantic Monthly, August 14, 2013.
 Common Article 3(1) to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.
 International humanitarian law prohibits any recruitment of children under the age of 15 or their participation in hostilities by national armed forces and non-state armed groups. Protocol II, art. 4(3). See also the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which prohibits any forced recruitment or conscription of children under 18 by government forces, and the participation of children under 18 in active hostilities by any party. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts (CRC Optional Protocol), G.A. Res. 54/263, Annex I, 54 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 7, U.N. Doc. A/54/49, Vol. III (2000), entered into force February 12, 2002, arts. 1-4.
 Perfidy involves feigning civilian or other non-combatant status in order to carry out an attack, and amounts to a war crime. See ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Rule 65, citing Protocol I, art. 37(1).
 See Michael Cottier, in Otto Trifferer, ed., Commentary on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Overservers’ Notes, Article by Article (Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft), p. 261.
 Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions.
 This account is based on Human Rights Watch interviews with eight relatives of the victims, many of them witnesses, as well as a review of videos of the two survivors, videos and photographs of the scene immediately after the strike, and interviews with 12 Yemeni journalists, political and security analysts and human rights activists. The interviews took place in Sanaa in October 2012 and April 2013. Human Rights Watch’s preliminary findings were published in December 2012; see Letta Tayler, “Anatomy of an Air Strike Gone Wrong,” Foreignpolicy.com, December 26, 2012, http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/26/anatomy-air-attack-gone-wrong.
 Eleven passengers died immediately and a 12th passenger died several days later from his injuries.
 See, e.g., “U.S. drone kills five suspected militants in Yemen,” Reuters, September 2, 2012, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/09/02/uk-yemen-violence-idUKBRE88106O20120902 (accessed August 30, 2013).
 See, e.g., “U.S. drone strike kills 13 civilians in central Yemen: official.” Xinhua News, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2012-09/02/c_131823003.htm (accessed August 30, 2013).
 See, e.g., Isabel Coles, “Islamist militants quit captured Yemeni town,” Reuters, January 25, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/25/us-yemen-militants-idUSTRE80O0K020120125 (accessed August 30,2013).
Human Rights Watch interviews with eight residents of Sabool and Humaydah who were witnesses or relatives of those killed, Sanaa, October 4 and 6, 2012, and April 23 and 27, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Sami al-Ezzi, Sanaa, October 4, 2012.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with eight residents of Sabool and Humaydah who were witnesses or relatives of those killed, October 4 and 6, 2012, and April 23 and 27, 2013. Human Rights Watch also reviewed several videos and photos of the aftermath that we confirmed were from the site.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Nawaf Massoud Awadh, Sanaa, October 6, 2012.
 Copies of videos on file with Human Rights Watch.
 Human Rights Watch interview with three residents of Sabool and Humaydah including Saleh Saad Atiq, a Humaydah village leader, Sanaa, April 27, 2013.
 See, e.g., Iona Craig, “Yemen Tribesmen Reportedly in Angry Protest Over Drone Campaign,” Times of London, January 5, 2013, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/middleeast/article3648934.ece (accessed January 5, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Yemeni government official, September 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with eight sources including Western security experts, Yemeni political analysts, Yemeni journalists and western journalists, Sanaa, April-May 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Abd al-Razzaq al-Jamal, Sanaa, May 8, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with security analysts including Nabil al-Bokairi of the Sanaa-based Arab Studies Center. Tariq al-Dahab’s faction “requested al Qaeda’s support to fight the other part of the family, which opened the door for al Qaeda to gain a foothold in that province,” he said. Tariq al-Dahab, who was linked by marriage to Anwar al-Awlaki. was killed by his half-brother Hizzam, who was in turn killed by Tariq’s men as he fled, in February 2012. For a detailed examination of the interplay between AQAP and tribes in al-Bayda, see Sasha Gordon, Tribal Militias in Yemen: Al Bayda and Shabwah, Critical Threats Project, February 7, 2013, http://www.criticalthreats.org/yemen/gordon-tribal-militias-yemen-al-bayda-and-shabwah-february-7-2013#_edn18 (accessed July 23, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interview with a western diplomat, Sanaa, May 2013. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity.
 Sudarsan Raghavan, “When U.S. drones kill civilians, Yemen’s government tries to conceal it,” Washington Post, December 24, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/when-us-drones-kill-civilians-yemens-government-tries-to-conceal-it/2012/12/24/bd4d7ac2-486d-11e2-8af9-9b50cb4605a7_story_1.html (accessed December 25, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interviews with six residents of al-Sabool andHumaydah, October 4 and 6, 2012, and April 23 and 27, 2013.
 Copy of the video is on file with Human Rights Watch.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Awadh, October 6, 2012. Relatives said nothing had changed when interviewed again on April 23 and 27, 2013.
 Human Rights interviews with five Sabool and Humaydah residents, April 23 and 27, 2013, and follow-up telephone calls.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ahmad al-Sabooli. Sanaa to al-Sabool, September 24, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with residents of al-Sabool, October 4 and 6, 2012.
 Copy of video on file with Human Rights Watch.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Abd al-Aziz Muhammad Ali, Sanaa, April 27, 2013.
 “Qaeda Suspects Arrested, Killed in Yemen,” Yemen Post, August 30, 2012, http://yemenpost.net/Detail123456789.aspx?ID=3&SubID=5906&MainCat=3 (accessed July 26, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interviewed five relatives of the two local men killed in the strike, as well as three Yemeni journalists and two Yemeni human rights defenders who investigated the strike. We also reviewed dozens of photographs and more than a dozen video clips taken immediately after the attack as well as the preceding night.
 Human Rights Watch interview via Skype with Hayat bin Ali Jaber, Sanaa to Khashamir, April 29, 2103.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with three relatives and a Hadramawt journalist, April 27 and 29 and May 4, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal bin Ali Jaber, Sanaa, April 27, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with Faisal Jaber, April 27, 2013; Abdullah bin Ali Jaber, Aden, May 4, 2013; and Ahmad bin Ali Jaber, Skype interview, Sanaa to Khashamir, April 29, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal Jaber, April 27, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Abdullah Salim bin Ali Jaber, May 4, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmad Salim bin Ali Jaber, April 29, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal Jaber, April 27, 2013, and Abdullah Salim bin Ali Jaber, May 4, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal Jaber, April 29, 2013. Copies of the photos and video on file with Human Rights Watch.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with relatives and Yemeni journalists and a review of videos of the rally of September 3, 2013. Copies of the videos on file with Human Rights Watch.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Hayat bin Ali Jaber, April 29, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal Jaber, April 27, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Faisal Jaber, Sanaa, September 26, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Hayat bin Ali Jaber, April 29, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal Jaber, April 29, 2013.
 Amnesty International identified the missiles as BGM-109D Tomahawks and the cluster munitions as BLU 97A/B bomblets. See Amnesty International, Yemen: Cracking Down Under Pressure, August 2010, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE31/010/2010. Human Rights Watch also determined after reviewing video clips and photographs of the site and the ordnance that Tomahawk missiles and cluster munitions were the weapons used.Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, in a comprehensive account of the strike, writes that the missiles were BGM-109D Tomahawks. See Dirty Wars (New York: Nation Books, 2013), pp. 307-08.
 BGM-109D Tomahawks are in the US Navy arsenal. The United States has never exported this type of cruise missile – only the TLAM-C cruise missile, which has a unitary warhead, has been bought by one country, the United Kingdom. There have been no other sales of this system by the US to foreign militaries. US Navy Fact File, "Tomahawk Cruise Missile," http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2200&tid=1300&ct=2. Scahill writes that a US submarine launched the missiles. See Dirty Wars, pp. 307-8. Yemen scholar Gregory Johnsen writes that they were launched from a Navy warship. See The Last Refuge, p. 252.
Republic of Yemen, Special Parliamentarian Investigating Committee Report On Security Events In the Province of Abyan ( “Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah”), February 7, 2010, pp. 7 and 19 (En.), pp. 5 and 15 (Ar.), and Annex 1. Some al-Majala residents put the civilian toll at 45. The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has posted the report both in its original Arabic and in English on its website, http://ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases/al-majalah-freedom-of-information-act-request (accessed July 28, 2013). All cited page numbers from the Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah refer to the copies posted on CCR.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with three residents of al-Majalah, Aden, May 4, 2013, as well as three Yemeni human rights defenders, April-May 2013.
Ibid., also see Parliamentary Report, p. 20 (En.), p. 15 (Ar.).
 Human Rights Watch interviews with five security analysts, two of whom are experts in assessing armed conflict, Sanaa and New York, April-October 2013.
 “ROYG Looks Ahead Following CT Operations, ButPerhaps Not Far Enough,” classified cable from US Embassy in Sanaa, December 21, 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/240955, and “General Petraeus' Meeting with Saleh on Security Assistance, AQAP Strikes,” classified cable from US Embassy in Sanaa, January 4, 2010, http://wikileaks.org/cable/2010/01/10SANAA4.html (both accessed July 23, 2013).
 See, e.g., Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars, pp. 303-13; Daniel Klaidman, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), pp. 99-210; Johnsen, The Last Refuge, pp. 251-268; Alkarama Foundation/HOOD, The United States’ War on Yemen: Drone Attacks, June 2013, pp. 6-10; http://en.alkarama.org/index.php?option=com_docman&Itemid=218, (accessed July 26, 2013); and Chris Woods, “The civilian massacre the US neither confirms nor denies,” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, March 29, 2012, http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2012/03/29/the-civilian-massacre-the-us-will-neither-confirm-nor-deny/ (accessed July 23, 2013).
 US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Nomination of John O. Brennan to be the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Responses to Post-Hearing Questions, February 16, 2013, http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/130207/posthearing.pdf (accessed June 11, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interviewed seven residents of al-Majalah in the port city of Aden in May 2013 including three of the six survivors, as well as two Yemeni human rights defenders, local journalists, and a prominent sheikh who have closely followed the case. We also reviewed media reports and books that reference the attack, as well as videos and photos of the immediate aftermath and ordnance at the site.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Moqbil Abu-Lukaish, Sanaa, April 26, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with four local residents and a regional tribal leader, as well as a journalist and a human rights defender who have visited the site, Sanaa, October 7, 2012, and Sanaa and Aden, April-May 2013.
 The Parliamentary on al-Majalah cited evidence of up to five missiles, pp.12, 18 (En.), pp. 8, 13 (Ar).
 US Navy Fact Sheet, Tomahawk Missiles, updated 2010, http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2200&tid=1300&ct=2 (accessed July 28, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Saleh bin Fareed, May 4, 2013. Tora Bora is the complex of mountain caves in Afghanistan that the US repeatedly bombed in December 2011 in an effort to kill Osama bin Laden.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Saleh bin Fareed, May 4, 2013.
 Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Moqbil Abu-Lukaish , Aden, May 4, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Awadh Saleh Medhi, Aden, May 4, 2013.
 Raytheon Company website, “Tomahawk Cruise Missile,” http://www.raytheon.com/capabilities/products/tomahawk/ (accessed July 27, 2013).
 GlobalSecurity.org, “BLU-97N Combined Effects Bomb,” http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/blu-97.htm (accessed July 27, 2013).
 Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah,p. 7 (En.), p. 5 (Ar.).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Yemeni government official, September 2013.
 GlobalSecurity.org, “BLU-97N Combined Effects Bomb,” http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/blu-97.htm (July 27, 2013).
 US Navy Fact Sheet, Tomahawk Missiles, updated 2010, http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2200&tid=1300&ct=2 (accessed July 28, 2013).
 The treaty requires destruction of stockpiles within eight years and clearance of affected areas within 10 years, and also establishes a strong framework for assistance to cluster munitions victims. Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, the civil society campaign behind the Convention on Cluster Munitions. See Human Rights Watch, Arms: Cluster Munitions, http://www.hrw.org/topic/arms/cluster-munitions and Cluster Munition Coalition, www.clustermunitions.org.
 Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah, p. 20 (En.) p.14 (Ar).
 Human Rights Watch interview with bin Fareed, May 4, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Awadh Saleh Mahdi, Aden, May 4, 2013. Three other residents confirmed his account to Human Rights Watch, Aden, May 4, 2013.
 Ibid. The human rights organizations Alkarama Foundation and HOOD also reported that in 2010, one of the unexploded bomblets floated five kilometers downriver and hit a group of people gathering herbs, killing two and injuring four others. See Alkarama Foundation/HOOD, The United States’ War on Yemen: Drone Attacks, June 2013, p. 9.
 Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah, pp. 19-20 (En.), p. 14 (Ar.),and Klaidman, Kill or Capture, pp. 99-102.
 Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah, p, 17 (En.), p.12(Ar.).
 See “Al-Qaeda in Yemen” chapter of this report.
 Taher, “Complete details on recent deadly operations against al-Qaeda,” Saba News, January 3, 2010. http://www.sabanews.net/en/news202231.htm, and Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah, p. 16 (En.), p.11 (Ar.). There are conflicting accounts as to how many years al-Kazami was imprisoned.
 Yemen Parliamentary Report on Al-Majalah, p. 16 (En.), p.11 (Ar.).
 Klaidman, Kill Or Capture, pp. 99-102.
 Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah, p. 6 (En.), p. 4 (Ar.). The governor at the time was Ahmad al-Mayssary.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Yemeni government official, September 2013.
 Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah, p. 20 (En.), p. 14 (Ar), Al-Zazami’s open movements also were described in Human Rights Watch interviews with three residents of al-Majalah in Aden, May 4, 2013, as well as three Yemeni human rights defenders and three Yemen security experts in Aden and Sanaa, April-May 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with three al-Majalah residents, April 26 and May 4, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Moqbil al-Lukaish, , May 4, 2013.
 Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah. p. 16 (En.), p. 11 (Ar.)
 Human Rights Watch interviews with al-Majalah residents, April 26 and May 4, 2013.
 Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah, p. 18 (En.), p. 12-13 (Ar.)
“General Petraeus’ Meeting With Saleh On Security Assistance, AQAP Strikes,” US Embassy Cable, Wikileaks.org, January 4, 2010, http://wikileaks.org/cable/2010/01/10SANAA4.html (accessed October 10, 2013).
 “ROYG Looks Ahead Following CT Operations, But Perhaps Not Far Enough,” classified cable from US Embassy in Sanaa, December 21, 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/240955 (accessed October 15, 2013).
“General Petraeus’ Meeting With Saleh on Security Assistance, AQAP Strikes,” US Embassy Cable, Wikileaks.org, January 4, 2010, http://wikileaks.org/cable/2010/01/10SANAA4.html (accessed October 15, 2013).
 Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti, and Robert F. Worth with Muhammad al-Ahmadi, “A Secret Assault on Terror Widens on Two Continents,” New York Times August 15, 2010, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9905E2D6133AF936A2575BC0A9669D8B63&ref=robertfworth (accessed July 29, 2013). Scahill identifies the armed militant who spoke as Muhammad al-Kilwi; see Dirty Wars, p. 311.
 Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah, p. 8 (En.), p. 5 (Ar.).
 Ibid., p. 20 (En.), p. 15 (Ar.), and Human Rights Watch interviews with four al-Majalah residents and bin Fareed, April 26 and May 4, 2013.
 Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah. pp. 21-22 (En.), p. 16 (Ar.).
 “ROYG Looks Ahead Following CT Operations, But Perhaps Not Far Enough,” The Guardian, December 21, 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/240955.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Mahdi, May 4, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with al-Majalah residents Mahdi, Moqbil Abu-Lukaish, and Salaha Moqbil Loqyah, Aden, May 4, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Abu-Lukaish, September 24, 2013. The scant possessions of the al-Majalah residents killed in the strike are listed in the Yemen Parliamentary Report on al-Majalah, Annex II.
 Human Rights Watch interviewed the children in Aden in the presence of their guardians, Mahdi, Moqbil Abu-Lukaish and Salaha Moqbil Loqyah, on May 4, 2013.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Mahdi , May 4, 2013.
 Shaye was held, beaten and threatened one month before his arrest by security agents. Upon his arrest he was held incommunicado for 34 days, and showed signs of being beaten when he first appeared in Yemen’s Specialized Criminal Court for national security suspects—a tribunal that is not authorized under Yemen’s constitution and has a record of unfair proceedings. The judge failed to investigate his arbitrary detention and alleged abuse.
Prosecutors said Shayi’ was a “media advisor” to the American cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi, killed in September 2011 in a drone strike, and said he was passing photographs of Yemen security bases and foreign embassies to AQAP as potential targets. But most of the evidence presented in court consisted of materials that a journalist investigating an armed militant group might review. See, e.g., Iona Craig, “Yemen: Press freedom a distant hope,” X Index, October 2010, http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2010/10/yemn-journalist-charge-terrorism/?utm_campaign=Listly&utm_medium=list&utm_source=listly (accessed July 29, 2013).
 “Readout of President's Call with President Saleh of Yemen,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, posted February 3, 2011, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/02/03/readout-presidents-call-president-saleh-yemen.
 Aya Batrawy, “US Disappointed in Yemen Journalist’s Release,” Associated Press, July 24, 2013,http://news.yahoo.com/us-disappointed-yemen-journalists-release-204657960.html (accessed September 30, 2013).
 Center for Constitutional Rights, Al-Majalah Freedom of Information Act Request, April 17, 2012, http://ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases/al-majalah-freedom-of-information-act-request (accessed July 28, 2013).