Faisal bin ali Jaber, a Yemeni man whose relatives were killed in a US drone strike, is traveling to the United States this week to tell his story to members of Congress and human rights activists at this weekend’s Drone Summit (which I’m covering for Truthout, FYI).
Jaber’s brother-in-law, 49-year-old Sheik Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, was killed in a covert drone strike on Hadhramout in August 2012. Salem was a Yemeni cleric and father of seven who preached loudly against the extremism exhibited by Al Qaeda, which his family feared would invite violent retribution from Al Qaeda linked militants. But in the end, it was US violence that ended Salem’s life as well as that of Waleed bin ali Jaber, a local policeman who was with Salem at the time of strike.
Faisal described to Al Jazeera the series of drone strike that killed Salem and the trauma that followed:
“It was after the evening prayer and I was sitting on my balcony,” Faisal said, recalling that moment. “There was a light and then a big noise – I thought the mountains would fall.”
Four drone strikes in total, a few minutes apart, violently tore Salem, Walid and the three visitors to shreds. Amidst the pandemonium, villagers cowering inside the mosque ran out for safety between strikes, believing they would die inside.
“You cannot imagine what we found,” said Faisal, drawing a slow, deep breath as he described the nighttime chaos that followed. “We found body parts scattered everywhere. We tried to collect them all, and brought them to the mosque to wrap in white cloth.”
The repercussions were devastating. The villagers marched the next day, chanting: “Obama, why do you spill our blood?” But President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi met their pleas for answers with silence.
Salem’s mother died two weeks later apparently from shock. Faisal’s sister Hayat, the mother of Walid, refuses to leave her home, and said she is “waiting to join my son”. Faisal’s daughter Heba was so stricken with fear she didn’t leave her home for twenty days. She still needs psychiatric care.
“The people in the village are so afraid now,” Faisal sighed. “Everything has changed. They think they can be killed anywhere.”
Not only is US drone policy terrorizing Yemeni civilians, it is making the US far less safe. According to one former State Department official, the US creates 40 to 50 new enemies for every Al Qaeda operative it kills in Yemen. In the case of Sheikh Salem, the US government actually killed an ally against extremism.
We have yet to fully understand the ramifications of the nearly dozen US drone strikes that pounded Yemen in the month of August, which were said to have killed over 30 people the US repeatedly swore were Al Qaeda militants.
Not so, says 28-year-old Arfag al-Marwani, a Yemeni laborer whose three younger brothers—24-year-old Abdullah, 17-year-old Hassan and 16-year-old Hussein—were killed while driving home from the store where they had been shopping for gifts for the Eid al Fitr holiday. Arfag told Foreign Policy about the strike that killed his baby brothers, two of whom were just teenagers:
“Everything inside the car seemed to have been flung out of the windows by the force of the blast,” said Arfag, describing what he found at the wreckage that night.
“I found their bodies lying nearby — decapitated.”
Arfag carried the bodies of Abdullah, Hassan and Hussein to the trunk of his car one by one along with what remained of Eid gifts his brothers’ had purchased just a few hours earlier.
“They purchased two outfits for their little nieces, desserts, and a lot of fireworks. We all enjoy the Eid fireworks — they weren’t just for the boys,” said Arfag.
Arfag notified the rest of his family before he began the 50 mile drive north where the family would prepare the bodies for burial in a nearby cemetery the following day.
“Mom took pictures with her mobile phone of all of them, along with the [charred] gifts they had bought,” Arfag continued.
When Faisal meets with various members of Congress in the coming days (unlike with the Rehman’s, there will not be a briefing), it will mark the second time lawmakers have heard directly from US drone strike victims. Let’s hope more than five are willing to listen this time.