President of Yemen Decries Recent Attack
First published in Brave New World - July 26, 2012
Early Friday morning local time, a plane fired two missiles at a home in Yemen’s southern Abyan province, in the town of Ja’ar. According to Yemeni officials, the first missile targeted alleged insurgents gathered in the house. In response to the blast, villagers rushed to the scene, hoping to pull any survivors from the rubble. A second missile killed 12 of the would-be rescuers and bystanders, and wounded another 21 civilians.
“It was surely an American plane,” a witness said. “We don’t have planes like that one. I don’t know if it had a pilot or not. All I know is what I can see with my own eyes,” he continued, pointing to an entire block of shops and houses reduced to rubble and to a still-standing wall covered with blood.
Upon hearing of the attack, Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, the president of Yemen, expressed his “profound sadness” at this loss of life while condemning the violence in no uncertain terms.
“We may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It’s beyond reason,” the president of Yemen said.
“While we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living,” he added.
“The people we lost in this latest drone strike loved and were loved. They were mothers and fathers; they were husbands and wives; sisters and brothers; sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled.”
Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, after interviewing villagers in the town of Ja’ar where the attack took place, compiled a partial list of the civilians who perished when the second missile struck. Identification was often difficult since the bodies were scattered in pieces from the force of the blast. With the approval of the Yemeni government and the relatives of the victims, the Red Cross has released the following documentation:
Abdullah al-Hadi, 5, and his sister Suha, 4, had been sitting in the doorway of their family’s home. Their mother, Umm Abdullah, described them as well-behaved children who rarely fought with each other or disobeyed their parents. “Abdullah was my first-born child,” she said. “He had such a loving disposition. Even though he was so young, he loved to listen to my husband recite traditional poetry in the evening. He knew many of the poems by heart. Many times I heard Abdullah repeating them out loud in front of his friends. His sister Suha was very shy, and fragile, too, like a little bird. My husband and I were careful not to hurt her feelings but sometimes she cried for no reason at all, at least no reason we could understand. I think she knew when someone was feeling sad. Maybe that is what made her cry, too.”
Zaineb Abdul Aziz, 36, was folding her family’s sleeping mats when the first missile struck. She immediately left her own house and ran to the site of the explosion. Neighbors reported seeing her digging frantically among the rubble in response to the cries of one of the victims. Mrs. Aziz was a highly respected member of her community and known for her efforts to help those in need. She loved to embroider and to cultivate roses, from which she made her own attar. Passersby could always quench their thirst with a cup of cool, rose-sweetened water from the clay jar she kept in front of her house. Mrs. Aziz leaves behind a husband and 4 children, ages 2-11.
Haji Mohammed Ibn Hussein, 78, was a doctor by profession. He made his pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca on the occasion of his 75th birthday, and upon returning, left a fairly successful practice in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, to serve the people in his hometown. To pay for the medical services he provided, his patients brought him baskets of round bread, honey, dates, and other types of food. After losing his wife to an outbreak of cholera in 1992, Haji Mohammed never re-married. Instead, he devoted himself to his profession by day and to his love of literature by night, translating classical Arabic prose into English. Among his favorite pastimes was entertaining informal gatherings of children with folktales he had heard as a child.
Azzedine, Abbas, and Salim, (15, 13, and 16), were three brothers who also perished in the attack. Their father Abu Salim, a farmer, had brought his sons to the town of Ja’ar in order to visit their uncle Jassim and his family. The family was still in mourning since the death of Jassim’s 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son in an earlier drone attack. Speaking with a Red Cross official, Jassim told how his two children had died in his arms while he was taking them to the hospital. Abu Salim and his brother Jassim along with their respective families were having breakfast in the living room of Jassim’s mud-brick house when the first explosion shattered the windows and flattened a neighbor’s dwelling. After a shard of glass severely wounded Jassim’s wife, the three brothers rushed outside to look for help. Witnesses reported seeing a gray, eagle-like plane circling around and coming in low. The plane fired a second missile. Azzedine and his brothers Abbas and Salim died instantly from the blast.
Ahmed al-Hanouti, 47, owned and operated a car repair shop in Ja’ar. The father of five children, he had fought in Afghanistan during the 80s when militants recruited and trained by the CIA were called “freedom fighters” by President Ronald Reagan because of their role in driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Now middle-aged, Ahmed had long ago renounced his involvement in any sort of insurgency or terrorist activity. Neighbors described him as a quiet, dignified man who worked hard to provide a decent living for his family. In the evenings, they said, he enjoyed sitting under the fig tree in the small courtyard he shared with other families and drinking glass after glass of tea. “He loved to talk about his pigeons, which he had been raising for the past seven years,” one of the neighbors said. “Ahmed dreamed of the day one of his pigeons would win a long distance race, and with the prize money, he would be able to send his oldest son to Sana’a University in the capital.
As additional information about the victims becomes available, this writer will update the above list, which is far from complete. In an attempt to bring solace to the people of Yemen and to pay tribute to the victims of this latest attack, President Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi offered these thoughts:
“Life is very fragile. . . Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.”
Truer words were never spoken.
About the author: George Capaccio is a professional writer and storyteller. He is currently eking out a living by writing for educational publishers in addition to writing essays and poetry. His book of poems ‘While the Light Still Trembles’ took first prize in the University of Arkansas Peace Writing Contest. From 1997-2003, Capaccio made 9 trips to Iraq with various peace and humanitarian organizations concerned with the devastating impact of sanctions. Much of his writing reflects his long-standing concern for the struggle of the Iraqi people to survive sanctions, war and occupation. He continues to assist families in Baghdad through the Iraq Family Relief Fund, a grassroots, down home effort he began in 1998. He is also connecting with Iraqi refugee families in the Massachusetts towns of Lowell and Chelsea and working with established networks to provide these families with basic services and household goods.