Yemen: scores of civilians killed and injured by Huthi anti-aircraft fire

Poster of Karim Ali al-Sagheer Farhan, 13, who was killed by an anti-aircraft projectile © Amnesty International
Saudi-led airstrikes on weapons depots have reportedly killed dozens more  
 
Cases include infants and mothers attempting to protect their children
 
The Huthi armed group has killed and injured scores of civilian in Yemen’s capital Sana’a with a barrage of anti-aircraft munitions, said Amnesty International today.
 
During a week-long trip to Sana’a, Amnesty spoke to medical staff at nine hospitals and residents who said that anti-aircraft weapons were the leading cause of casualties in the capital. Saudi Arabian-led coalition airstrikes against weapons depots in residential areas have triggered further explosions, also killing and injuring more civilians.
 
The Huthis’ apparent use of “contact-fuzing” anti-aircraft weaponry - which detonates on impact either with an aircraft or when it has landed - has killed and maimed civilians, and amounts to a failure to take adequate precautions to protect the civilian population, which is a violation of international humanitarian law. Meanwhile, though the group has also used air-burst anti-aircraft weaponry - which is designed to detonate in the air, potentially reducing civilian casualties - Amnesty remains concerned that civilians are still being endangered. 
 
Amnesty is calling on the Huthis not to use any contact-fuzed anti-aircraft weaponry and to take additional precautions to protect civilians when firing other anti-aircraft munitions, including air-burst. The Huthi armed group and its Ansarullah political wing should also investigate cases in which civilians have reportedly been harmed by their anti-aircraft weaponry and compensate them, including by paying for medical treatment and repairs to damaged property.
 
Amnesty International Senior Crisis Advisor Lama Fakih said:
 
“Sana’a’s residents are caught in a deadly crossfire between the Saudi Arabian-led coalition airstrikes and anti-aircraft fire from the Huthi armed group. 
 
“For the civilians affected, it doesn’t matter which side is responsible. They pay the same price.
 
“Both sides have failed to take the necessary precautions to protect civilian lives in violation of the laws of war. Instead they have carried out attacks that have had devastating consequences for the civilian population.”
 

Anti-aircraft fire

A doctor at al-Thawra hospital, one of the largest public hospitals in Sana’a, told Amnesty that the vast majority - around 90% - of war-wounded patients admitted to the hospital had been injured by anti-aircraft fire. He said that before the five-day ceasefire last week around 20 patients with such injuries were admitted to the hospital daily. A second doctor working at the hospital also confirmed that the majority of the 1,024 wounded patients treated there during the first month of the conflict, had also been injured by anti-aircraft fire. This was confirmed by staff at the German-Saudi hospital and al-Mu’yyad Modern Hospital, where a doctor told Amnesty that the majority of the wounded there were women and children suffering from fragmentation injuries caused by anti-aircraft fire. 
 
Amnesty also met the parents of a child who was killed and four civilians who were injured by anti-aircraft fire, including a nine-year-old boy who was left with a broken leg and fragmentation wounds in his stomach, groin and foot. Fatmeh, a mother of two, was injured along with her one-and-a-half-year-old baby when an anti-aircraft projectile struck their home in Sana’a on 30 March. She was left with several fragmentation injuries to her head, hand and body.
 

Airstrikes on weapons depots

Many of the other civilian victims in hospitals Amnesty visited were injured by secondary explosions when attacks by Saudi Arabian-led coalition aircraft struck a weapons cache in the Mount Nuqum neighbourhood on 11 May. Amnesty interviewed four residents of Mount Nuqum who witnessed the attack and seven others who were injured in secondary explosions caused by the air strikes, including four children and two women. One of the women said that her son was killed in the same blast that had injured her. Around 40 people were killed in the strike according to the Ministry of Health, although Amnesty could not independently verify this figure. Nearly 140 people injured in the attack were admitted for treatment at al-Thawra and Kuwait hospitals according to hospital staff and records.
 
Scores of residents were also injured in an earlier airstrike on a weapons depot in Faj ‘Attan, on the outskirts of Sana’a, on 20 April. All of the residents affected by the Mount Nuqum or Faj ‘Attan blasts told Amnesty that no advance warning was given of an impending attack despite the apparent feasibility of such warnings and the likelihood that civilians living in close proximity to the storage facilities would be injured by secondary blasts. Failing to give an effective advance warning under these circumstances is a violation of the rules of international humanitarian law. The extensive harm to the civilian population resulting from these attacks also raises concerns about the proportionality of these strikes.
 
Amnesty is calling on Saudi Arabia and other coalition states involved in the airstrikes to take all feasible precautions to minimise the risks posed to civilians. This includes cancelling or suspending an attack if it becomes apparent that the target is not military or that the attack is likely disproportionate; and giving effective advance warning of attacks which may affect civilians, unless circumstances do not permit. The Huthi armed group should also move its military positions away from populated civilian areas where feasible, Amnesty said.
 
Given the mounting casualties in Yemen, Amnesty is also calling on all states supplying weapons, ammunition, training or any other military technology/assistance to Saudi Arabia to exercise extreme caution and demonstrate that any military transfers will not fuel further civilian deaths and injuries. 
 
“As airstrikes and anti-aircraft fire resume across Yemen, the number of civilian casualties is already beginning to rise,” said Lama Fakih. 
 
“So far both sides have displayed a chilling indifference to the deadly impact of their actions on civilians. All parties to the conflict can and should take all feasible steps to minimize the risk to civilians.” 
 
Coalition airstrikes have caused hundreds of civilian deaths since 25 March, and Amnesty has documented several cases in which airstrikes may have violated international humanitarian law.
 

CASES

Sa’wan neighbourhood, Sana’a (30 March)
Amnesty spoke to Fatmeh, 24, a mother of two, who was injured along with her one-and-a-half-year-old child by an anti-aircraft projectile that hit their home in Sa’wan at around 9pm. Fatmeh sustained fragmentation injuries in her right hand and head, while her son suffered fragmentation injuries to his head and hand. Her son had two operations to treat his injuries, though Fatmeh’s family have not been able to afford the costs of surgery to remove the fragments lodged in her own head. Fatmeh told Amnesty she is suffering from debilitating headaches and at time is unable to see. Amnesty visited Fatmeh’s home and observed the damage caused by the projectile which was consistent with an anti-aircraft strike.
 
Shumaylah neighbourhood, Sana’a (27 April)
Amnesty also spoke to the parents of Karim Ali al-Sagheer Farhan, 13, who was killed by an anti-aircraft projectile. Karim’s mother said that at 12pm she heard an anti-aircraft projectile strike in front of the house and then heard her son cry out:
 
“I heard him scream Allahu Akbar and he was saying the shahada. I pulled my abaya on and then saw the neighbours taking him to the hospital…I knew it was anti-aircraft weaponry from the noise. There was no shelling that day.”
 
Karim’s mother and father went to the Yemen Jordan hospital where they were told by doctors and neighbours that their son had a shrapnel injury to the stomach and would need an operation. Karim’s father told Amnesty that the injury was caused by an anti-aircraft projectile. Describing what happened, he said:
 
“[Karim] was at the gate of the house going to the mosque for the noon prayer. The anti-aircraft projectile failed to detonate in the sky and hit the ground and his stomach was hit with shrapnel …he went into surgery, but didn’t survive. From the impact of the strike and what people said who were at the site after he was injured we knew it was an anti-aircraft weapon. The whole area heard the explosion. There were no airstrikes here ... A second shell hit the roof on Monday but it didn’t detonate.” 
 
Karim’s father showed Amnesty the projectile that hit the roof. He said the anti-aircraft fire was coming from Jabal al-Nahdayn, a Huthi stronghold. He also provided Amnesty with a copy of Karim’s medical records which stated he was injured by anti-aircraft fire. 
 
Beit Baws neighbourhood, Sana’a (5 May)
Sameer, 50, was injured by an anti-aircraft projectile on 50 Meter Road in the Beit Baws area at around 11am on his walk home from work, his relative told Amnesty. Sameer, who was badly injured in the attack, was still recovering in the intensive care unit at the al-Thawra hospital nearly two weeks after the incident. His relative, who visited him in the Essra’ Hospital where he was taken directly after the attack, said that several other men were injured in the same incident and that he saw them at the hospital. He told Amnesty that that day there were no airstrikes in the area, but that there was anti-aircraft fire. 
 
Mount Nuqum neighbourhood, Sana’a (6 May)
Amnesty visited nine-year-old Salah in the al-Thawra hospital where he was recovering from injuries sustained from an anti-aircraft projectile on 6 May. His left leg was broken and he had fragmentation injuries to his stomach, groin and right foot. Salah’s uncle, who was with him in the hospital, told Amnesty that Salah was injured while in Mount Nuqum, where he lives. He said that at the time Salah was in the street with his siblings and cousins. Salah said:
 
“We were playing [in the street]. It was 5pm, prayer time. The plane was there and they tried to hit it with the Raja [anti-aircraft weaponry].”
 
Salah’s uncle told Amnesty that anti-aircraft fire was a regular occurrence in their neighbourhood. “They are always striking [this area],” he said. “We’ve started to know from the remnants when it is a Raja [anti-aircraft weaponry] …two weeks before another boy and an older man were also injured by a Raja.” He was optimistic that Salah would be walking again in one month.
 
Damar al-Ghar neighbourhood, Sana’a (5 or 6 May)
Amnesty spoke to Amal, a woman from Damar al-Ghar who was at the al-Thawra hospital recovering from injuries from an anti-aircraft projectile that hit her neighbourhood ten or 11 days earlier. Amal said that she was attempting to take children to safety when the projectile struck, injuring her. She said that they heard the plane overhead but she did not see it, and that no airstrikes struck the neighbourhood that day. 
 
Mount Nuqum, airstrike on weapons depot (11 May)
Ahmad, a resident of Mount Nuqum present during an airstrike early in the evening on 11 May, told Amnesty he heard four large explosions following aerial attacks. The airstrikes hit a weapons cache in the mountain which then set off a series of secondary explosions and projectiles. Ahmad said that the secondary projectiles continued to go off until 7am the next day. He said that anti-aircraft weapons that had been stored in the mountain were “dropping like rain” on the neighbourhood. Ahmad estimated that the weapons cache was about 200-250 metres away from the homes in the congested residential area. 
 
One of the residents injured in the secondary blasts was 16-year-old Bassel, who told Amnesty:
 
“I was trying to evacuate women from the area just before the strike at 6.30pm. We were in front of the Ghamdan School with our relatives. There were no fighters there. People were running away. I was walking when I was hit. One guy came in a car and took me to the hospital. My mum was also hit with shrapnel.” 
 
Bassel’s right leg was amputated below the knee as a result of his injury. 
 
Amnesty also met Firas, a four-year-old who was injured in his home near to Mount Nuqum on 11 May from a secondary explosion, and spoke to a relative who was with him at the hospital. Firas’ left hand and right leg had been injured by shrapnel. His mother, the relative told us, also had a fragmentation injury to her face. 
 

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