HRW’s report, “Between a Drone and al Qaeda,” alleges that two of the Yemen attacks it examined killed civilians “indiscriminately” in violation of the laws of war, and that others may have targeted people who were not legitimate targets. HRW researchers spent six weeks in Yemen and interviewed more than 90 people, including witnesses and relatives of those killed, and reviewed evidence that included ordnance and video. Researchers were able to visit two attack sites, but security concerns prevented visits to the others.
According to HRW, the strikes killed 82 people, at least 57 of them civilians. One drone-assisted attack in central Yemen in September 2012 allegedly struck a passenger van and killed 12 civilians.
“The bodies were charred like coal – I could not recognize the faces,” said Ahmad al-Sabooli, 23, who was interviewed by HRW. He soon realized, however, that three of the bodies were his mother, his father and his younger sister.
HRW said that an August 2012 drone attack killed a local cleric who had preached against al Qaeda, as well as his cousin, a local police officer.
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