SANAA : Angry relatives of Yemeni civilians killed in a drone strike, which Sanaa insists hit Al-Qaeda chiefs, have demanded an apology and compensation, warning of tribal protests, an official said Saturday. The Supreme Security Committee said late Friday that an air strike that killed 17 people, mostly civilians, near Rada in the central province of Bayda, had targeted Al-Qaeda. Tribal mediators headed for the capital on Saturday, a day after they succeeded in calming protesters who blocked the road between Rada and Sanaa during the funeral of 13 relatives said to be all civilians, the official said.
“The first demand is an end to strikes. They also want financial and moral compensation,” the official 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”.
“On board the vehicle... were top leaders who plotted several terrorist attacks against the armed forces, police, civilians and vital government installations,” it said in a statement carried by the state news agency Saba.
The statement did not give a death toll for the strike, nor did it refer to any civilian casualties or admit that the attack was launched by a US drone.
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 in the past on Yemeni 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 large and heavily armed, like most tribes in Yemen.
The local official said protesters agreed to bury the dead only after a tribal committee promised mediation with the central authorities in Sanaa.
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 a sharply intensified campaign this year.
But 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 Thursday’s raid “exposes a serious lack of accountability for scores of civilians 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 Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director.
Yemen is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden and the home base of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the United States views as the global jihadist network’s most dangerous franchise.
The group said it carried out a brazen daylight attack on the defence ministry’s sprawling headquarters in Sanaa on December 5, which killed 56 people, among them expatriate medical staff.
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 the capital, aimed at averting deadly 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”, the committee said in a statement.