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INVESTIGATIONS

Targeting women's prison in Taiz city

April 19, 2020

Targeting women's prison in Taiz city

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Initial Summary:

  • Location: Taiz Central Prison in Aqaqa , Al-Mudhaffar District, west of the Taiz governorate.
  • Date: April 5, 2020
  • Time: 16:30 - 16:57 local time.
  • Alleged targets: the women’s ward in Taiz Central Prison.
  • Number of reported deaths: 8, including 2 children.
  • Number of reported injured people: 7.
  • Possible responsible for the attack: Houthis group, “Ansar Allah”.

Introduction:

On April 5, 2020, Taiz Central Prison was attacked by three “mortar” shells fired by the “Ansar Allah” Houthi group, one of which hit the women’s wing yard, killing 6 women and more than 20 wounded, during a gathering of inmates and family visitors. The attack came after instructions for the release of a number of inmates, with guarantees, as part of a measure taken by the authorities in the city to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus inside prisons. The incident drew wide local and international condemnation as it amounts to a war crime.

centralprison 1 The entrance to the women’s ward in Taiz Central Prison © The investigation team

Taiz Central Prison is located in the Aqaqa area of Al-Mudhaffar District, west of Taiz, on the city’s only road currently leading to the “Fog Valley” adjacent to the clashes area between the parties to the conflict. The prison is approximately 2 km away from the nearest military site controlled by the Houthis.

At the end of June 2015, around 1,200 prisoners escaped from Taiz Central Prison after the “Popular Resistance Forces” approached the vicinity of the prison, which was controlled by Ansar Allah Houthi group. Among those who escaped were al-Qaeda inmates, and criminals, The prison fence was also impacted as a result of the military confrontations, before the prison was repaired, and the new inmates were transferred to it in October 2017.

What happened and when?

centralprison 2 The mortar shell in prison © The investigation team

Ansar Allah attack on Taiz Central Prison took place on April 5, 2020 at around 16:30 - 16:57 local time. The attack with three mortar shells killed 8 and wounded 7 others.

The first reports of the attack started on social media (Facebook - Twitter), as local activists and media outlets circulated on their pages on April 5, news that the women’s wing in Taiz Central Prison had been shelled by mortar shelling, which resulted in a number of dead and wounded, most of them women. Later, news and pictures of the incident started to appear on satellite TV channels and news websites.

Abu Saeed tweeted at 04:57 pm local time, that Taiz Central Prison was just bombed. He was one of the first to report the incident.

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Haroun Al-Yamani posted on Facebook 7 minutes after the previous tweet, that the bombing of the central prison in Taiz, resulted in 5 dead and 10 wounded women.

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The timestamp of social media posts such as those posted above (Facebook - Twitter), and according to testimonies of people who were near the women’s wing of Taiz Central Prison, indicates that the attack took place between 16:45 - 16:57 local time.

Then the news continued on social media by activists and media outlets, accompanied by a number of live pictures of the details of the destruction and the blood of the victims that were left after bombing on the prison. Abdel Wahab Al-Thobhani published on Facebook at 05:05, news and a number of photos of the location of the accident.

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On the same day, several international agencies, satellite TV channels and news websites reported on the incident, as well as documented several videos shortly after the bombing of the location, which were widely published on the websites and TVs.

centralprison 6 A screenshot from video posted by “Watch Net” on the incident, which shows the aftermath of the attack in the Women section

centralprison 7 A news published by the Chinese Xinhua News Agency about the incident

On April 6, 2020, a day after the incident, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen issued a statement condemning the targeting of Taiz Central Prison saying, “While the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, Liz Grande, expressed her condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims and wished urgent recovery for the injured, she said, that such a strike, which resulted in killing and wounding defenseless women and children, could not be justified, adding that “it is a horrific violation of international humanitarian principles.”

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On the same day, the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen posted on Facebook a leaflet regretting the attack on Taiz Central Prison that resulted in women and children dead and wounded.

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While Martin Griffiths, the UN Secretary-General’s envoy to Yemen, described the attack on Taiz Central Prison as heinous, in a tweet on his official account on Twitter condemning the attack.

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The “Ansar Allah” group, in turn, denied their responsibility for the attack, in a tweet published by the military spokesman, “Yahya Sari” on Twitter, saying: “We categorically deny what was reported by some of the aggression media and their mercenaries regarding the targeting of the women’s prison in Taiz Governorate by the army and popular committees, and we confirm that such lies will not change the course of the enemy’s criminal reality or exempt him from his comprehensive crime against the Yemeni people. ”

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Witnesses:

The Yemeni Archive team interviewed victims, officials, and workers linked to the incident in Taiz Central Prison and citizens living in the area, and listened to their testimonies, and according to one of the wounded – who preferred not to mention her name, she said: “We were in sitting in the prison yard with my friends as a group meeting before being released, after an order for our release was issued. We kept talking and laughing and suddenly a shell fell, I went to the room to fetch water and rushed to the outside. I saw a horrific and very ugly scene, the remains and blood of my friends were scattered, and their bodies were thrown around the place. I tried to rescue the policewoman when another shell fell and I got shrapnel in my hand.”

centralprison 12 Samar al-Marwani, a pseudonym, one of the residents west of the city and close to the front lines, said:

“I heard the sound of the first projectile that went from the direction of the al-Rubaie area, the center of the Houthis’ presence. I stood in front of the house as a second projectile proceeded towards the thirtieth Street. I made a telephone call to know where exactly the explosion took place, and they told me that it was in the central prison. I went there while, and while I was there a third projectile landed in the corner of the prison.”

Sergeant Thani Tawfiq Ali, a soldier working in the prison, said: “At about four o’clock in the afternoon we were near the women’s prison when the shell reached the interior, we went to the wing gate, and we found 7 women dead 8 wounded with amputated feet and hands. One of them was a policewoman who was performing the service and she passed away. Two days after the incident, as we were there another shell landed near the place and the third followed it a little further away, at the same time a shell landed at the prison gate killing a truck driver. The total of the shells that landed on the fifth of April is 6 shells inside and around the prison.

“Anwar Sadiq al-Kamel” director of follow-up to Taiz Central Prison, indicated that among the dead people on April 5, 2020, two children who were visiting their mothers, as well as 6 women, including a policewoman, and 8 others wounded by the shelling by the Houthi group with three mortar shells, according to him.

Internal and external destruction analysis:

From right to left: the impact of the first, second and third mortar attacks on the prison.

Three mortar shells hit three different places inside and outside the prison. The first shell hit the northwestern part of the women’s wing yard inside the prison, the second landed on the ground outside the prison, and the last shell hit the outside wall of the prison.

A picture of the women’s wing by Khaled Fouad

In the pictures from inside the prison, there is visible damage in the women’s ward yard, its walls and columns. As shown in the photos, the place of the first shell landing in the women’s wing square in Taiz Central Prison, meters away from the gathering place of inmates and visitors.

Fragments of the first shell flew in all directions of the yard, but according to the photos published by Khaled Fouad Al-Bena on his Facebook page, the comparison shows the two sides most affected by the attack and the location of the main gathering of inmates.

Verification:

The Yemeni Archive team has verified the visual content shown in the videos and photos of the women’s wing in Taiz Central Prison taken by the team and were posted on the social media, and analyzed and compared geographical features with satellite images.

It is clear that the features of the women’s wing building in Taiz Central Prison and the background terrain taken from Google Earth are identical to the features and terrain of the target location of the attack in the photos taken by the Archive team.

The features of the women’s wing yard appear in satellite imagery match the details of the building in the photos taken by the Yemeni Archive team, where an water steel reservoir is seen on the roof of the women’s building towards the columns indicated, and we see water delivery pipes to the end of the square in the interior image of the wing. This explains the correlation of the available visual evidence about the location of the attack.

The photos below show the location of the second shell, according to the officials of the Central Prison in Taiz, 20 meters from the gate of the targeted women’s wing, highlighting the description and information provided in the testimony of one of the soldiers working in the prison.

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The weapon used:

The Yemeni Archive team was able to obtain photos of the weapon remains used in the attack, collected by the Central Prison Administration in Taiz, which are 120-mm mortar structures and parts of fragments. According to a study conducted about mortars and published by the Geneva International Center for Mine Clearance (GICHD), the 120-mm caliber is considered heavy artillery, and its range ranges between 7 - 9 km and contains between 1.7 - 4.2 kg of iron. The distance between Taiz Central Prison and the nearest site controlled by the “Ansar Allah” Houthi group is about 2 km, on the back of the strategic Mount Han overlooking the city’s only road, that is, in the range of which the cannon reaches.

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The Houthi group, “Ansar Allah”, took control of the warehouses of the Yemeni army and security forces in the beginning of the year 2015, most of which were Russian-made weapons and mortars including mortars of various calibers, and was used in the ongoing conflict between the group and the Saudi-backed legal forces in Yemen.

The “Ansar Allah” group revealed on April 22, 2018 that it manufactured various artillery and shells that included locally made mortars called “Rajum”, in addition to manufacturing mortars of various calibres. A video on Al Masirah TV showed models of the declared shells that correspond to the remnants of the shell that fell on the central prison and others. The Popular Resistance Forces in Taiz announced that they were found at a Houthi site in the southern countryside of the city in 2015.

Conclusion:

After analyzing the open source content posted on social media, satellite TV channels, and news websites, in addition to testimonies of victims and people associated with the incident and the investigation team’s documentation of the target location, it can be said that Taiz Central Prison was attacked on April 5, 2020, with three 120-mm mortar shells, one of which hit the women’s ward between 16:30 - 16:57 pm local time, killed 8 people, including two children who were visiting their families, and wounded 7 others.

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Local and international parties accuse the forces of the “Ansar Allah” group, the Houthis, of their responsibility for the attack on Taiz Central Prison from its locations in the outskirts of the city, where the nearest military site is located about 2 km from the target location, as well as testimonies of citizens living near the contact lines west of the city stated that the sounds of firing shells came from the direction of the al-Rubaie area, which is under the group’s control.

Through the analysis of the weapon in use, it is clear that the “Ansar Allah” group, the Houthis, possesses this type of projectile, which it uncovered in a report by Al-Masirah channel, and said it was locally made by their military industrial workshop.

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