Saudis say Yemen funeral massacre was a mistake

Saudi Arabia now accepts that it should not have bombed the funeral in Yemen last Saturday, killing at least 140 people and injuring more than 500.

statement issued today through the Saudi government news agency blamed the kingdom's Yemeni allies for instigating the attack based on false information that "a gathering of armed Houthi leaders" was taking place.

However, the statement also said the attack had failed to comply with the Saudi-led coalition's rules of engagement. It had been carried out without approval from the coalition command and without following the command’s "precautionary measures" to ensure that the location was not a civilian one.

It proposed three steps to prevent a recurrence:

1. "Appropriate action, in accordance with Coalition regulations, must be taken against those who caused the incident.

2. Compensation must be offered to the families of the victims. 

3. Coalition forces must immediately review their rules of engagement and update their procedures to ensure adherence in future.

Nevertheless, the statement rejected the widely-published casualty figures, saying that the mistaken attack resulted only in "several" deaths and injuries.

Here is the full text of the statement:

The Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) initiated an investigation into the October 8th 2016 ceremony hall bombing immediately after it sadly occurred. The Coalition Forces Command have fully cooperated with this investigation.

In a statement to Saudi Press Agency (SPA), JIAT examined all related documents, and assessed evidence, including the rules of engagement (ROEs) and the testimonies of concerned personnel and those involved in the incident. JIAT has concluded that a party affiliated to the Yemeni Presidency of the General Chief of Staff wrongly passed information that there was a gathering of armed Houthi leaders in a known location in Sana'a, and insisted that the location be targeted immediately as a legitimate military target.

The Air Operations Center in Yemen directed a close air support mission to target the location without obtaining approval from the Coalition command to support legitimacy and without following the Coalition command’s precautionary measures to ensure that the location is not a civilian one that may not be targeted. A Coalition aircraft in the area carried out the mission, which resulted in several deaths and injuries.

JIAT has found that because of non-compliance with Coalition rules of engagement (ROEs) and procedures, and the issuing of incorrect information a Coalition aircraft wrongly targeted the location, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries.

JIAT has therefore concluded that appropriate action, in accordance with Coalition regulations, must be taken against those who caused the incident, and that compensation must be offered to the families of the victims. Moreover, Coalition forces must immediately review their rules of engagement (ROEs) and update their procedures to ensure adherence in future.

JIAT is still gathering and analysing data related to the incident, namely reports about some sides that used this erroneous bombing to increase the number of victims, in coordination with the relevant agencies of the legitimate Yemeni government and concerned states, and will announce the results as soon as its investigations are complete.

The Saudi newspaper, Arab News, adds that the king has allocated 200 million Saudi riyals ($53 million) "to facilitate the transfer abroad of the injured who need to be treated". Citing Agence France Presse, Arab News says:

"An Omani aircraft landed in the rebel-held Yemeni capital on Saturday to evacuate 115 of the most seriously wounded, but it was not clear whether the treatment would be done in Sudan or Oman.

"Oman is the only Gulf Arab state that is not part of the coalition fighting the Houthi rebels and has previously organised evacuations from Sanaa of Westerners and others who had been detained by the insurgents.

"The Omani aircraft also flew home to Sanaa the rebel negotiating team which had been stranded in the sultanate’s capital Muscat since the collapse of UN-brokered peace talks in Kuwait in August because of the air blockade, said the report."

The admission of flaws in the Saudi command system which fail to protect Yemeni civilians largely confirms what aid workers and human rights groups have been saying for a long time – and what the British government has long been attempting to deny.

Fragment from an American-supplied bomb said to have been found at the scene of the funeral massacre in Yemen