Yemenis protest after US drone strike kills 17 in wedding convoy

A mural depicting a US drone and reading "Why did you kill my family" in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/Mohammed Huwais)

Angry relatives of Yemeni civilians killed in a drone strike, which Sanaa insists hit Al-Qaeda chiefs, escalated their protest over the weekend, blocking a main road and demanding an end to US raids.

The Supreme Security Committee said a Thursday air strike that killed 17 people, mostly civilians, near Rada in the central province of Bayda, had targeted Al-Qaeda.

“If the government fails to stop American planes from … bombing the people of Yemen, then it has no rule over us,” tribal chief Ahmad al-Salmani told AFP from Rada.

He spoke as hundreds of armed men from the large Qayfah tribe blocked the Rada-Sanaa road linking several southern areas to the capital, witnesses said.

Protesters also blocked the road on Friday during the funeral of 13 relatives and agreed to reopen it only after tribal chiefs promised to mediate.

The mediation committee was said to have traveled on Saturday to Sanaa to present the tribe’s demands, a local official said.

“The first demand is an end to strikes. They also want financial and moral compensation,” the official said.

The committee later met the regional military command in Rada, another official told AFP.

“They are discussing solutions to be presented to the families of civilian casualties,” the official said, adding that tribal arbitration, which would stipulate compensation, was the probable outcome.

“We have set a deadline for mediators to come back with a response from the authorities,” Salmani said.

The security committee headed by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi said Thursday’s strike targeted “a car that belonged to one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda.”

A statement carried by the state news agency Saba did not give a death toll for the strike, mention any civilian casualties or admit that it was a US drone attack.

Security sources and witnesses had said that the attack by two missiles hit a wedding convoy, killing mostly civilians.

Two of the dead whose names were released — Saleh al-Tays and Abdullah al-Tays — had figured on past government lists of wanted Al-Qaeda suspects.

But most of those killed were civilians of the Al-Tays and Al-Ameri clans headed for the wedding.

The two families are part of the Qayfah tribe, which is heavily armed, like most tribes in Yemen.

US military

The US military operates all unmanned aircraft flying over Yemen in support of Sanaa’s campaign against Al-Qaeda, and has killed dozens of militants in an intensified campaign this year.

Critics say the drone strikes have also killed civilians and have demanded an end to the secrecy surrounding their use.

Amnesty International said confusion over who was behind the raid “exposes a serious lack of accountability for scores of civilian deaths in the country.”

“Even if it turns out that this was a case of killing based on mistaken identity or dodgy intelligence, whoever was responsible needs to own up to the error and come clean about what happened in this incident,” said Amnesty’s Philip Luther.

Yemen is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden and home to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which Washington views as the Wahhabi militant network’s most dangerous franchise.

AQAP said it carried out a brazen daylight attack on the defense ministry complex in Sanaa on December 5 which killed 56 people, among them expatriate medics.

It has also been blamed for numerous attacks on security forces and officials.

On Saturday, the Supreme Security committee renewed a two-week ban on motorbikes in Sanaa, aimed at averting shoot-and-scoot attacks.

The ban, announced on December 1, has resulted in a “clear drop in the use of motorbikes by vandals and terrorists,” a statement said.

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