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Bombing a detention centre in Saada

March 2, 2022

a detention centre (previously: the Central Security Camp) in Sahar district, on the administrative border with Saada city, the centre of Saada governorate.

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Incident Summary

  • Incident: Bombing a detention centre in Saada
  • Type: air strikes
  • Location: a detention centre (previously: the Central Security Camp) in Sahar district, on the administrative border with Saada city, the centre of Saada governorate.
  • Date: 21 January 2022
  • Time: between 00:50 - 02:30
  • Victims: 91 dead and 236 injured, including an African migrant.
  • Probable munitions: Paveway II - GBU-12 guided bomb
  • Probable responsibility: Saudi led coalition

Introduction

In the early hours of 21 January 2022, Almasirah TV of the Houthis (Ansar Allah) broadcast bloody scenes of victims under the rubble, as a result of air strikes targeting detention centre according to Almasirah TV crowded with hundreds of inmates of African migrants, prisoners and civilians in the pretrial prison-previously: the Central Security Camp-in Saada governorate, north of Yemen. The airstrikes occurred less than an hour after a nation-scale Internet blackout.

About the area

The detention centre (previously: the Central Security Camp) is located north of Sahar district, on the administrative border with Saada city, Saada governorate’s capital, approximately 2.5 km south of Saada International Airport.

Saada governorate, bordering Saudi Arabia on the northern borders of Yemen, is the main stronghold of Houthis and most of its leaders. It was announced by the Saudi-led coalition in May 2015 as a military target along with the Maran region.

The governorate has been subjected to violent air raids since the first day of Saudi led intervention in Yemen under the name: “Operation Decisive Storm”. The air raids hit military camps, government buildings, and the governorate’s infrastructure, including the Central Security Camp, which in mid-2020 turned into a detention centre affiliated with the Houthis under the name “Pre-trial prison in Saada.”

1 A satellite image of Saada city, the capital of Saada governorate. Google maps.

The incident

On 21 January, social media, news websites, and TV channels circulated news that the pretrial prison in Saada had been hit by air raids by the Saudi led coalition, resulting in dozens of killed and wounded prisoners, including African migrants.

2 A screenshot of a tweet by Doctors Without Borders

3 A screenshot of a tweet by Al Jazeera Breaking

The Coalition denied

Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Turki Al-Malki, said in a statement that “the alleged target was not included in the No-strike list (NSL) according to the mechanism approved with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen (OCHA)” and that the “alleged target was not reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and does not apply to the standards set forth in the provisions of international humanitarian law.”

On January 27, 2022, the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) stated that it was continuing to follow up on all results of operations in Yemen and that it had launched an investigation into the incident by collecting relevant facts and information, confirming that it would share the results as soon as they are completed.

Time

The detention centre in Saada was bombed hours after the coalition hit the Communications building in al-Hodeidah with airstrikes, which led to a nation-scale Internet blackout two and a half hours after the strikes. The blackout led to the interruption of information sent out by local residents and the ability to analyse the timestamps of social media posts.

The last thing that was published by local Twitter accounts (Ahmed Saeed - Abu JubranBadeel-Q), before the Internet outage was information that there is a aircrafts flying over Saada governorate between 11:59 pm and 12:48 am, minutes before the Internet outage. A Saudi Twitter account, Mohammed, in response to another Twitter user commented at 12:52 am that the Coalition aircrafts launched air strikes on Saada.

4 A screenshot of Ahmed Saeed’s Tweet

5 A screenshot of Abu Gibran’s Tweet

6 A screenshot of Badeel-Q’s Tweet

7 A screenshot of Mohammed’s Tweet

According to statements of the head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in Yemen, and testimonies by the detention centre guards published in Almasirah Mubasher’s YouTube video, the bombing occurred between 02:00 - 02:30 am. Based on that, the probable time range for bombing the prison was between 12:50 and 02:30 am on 21 January.

8 A screenshot from Almasirah Mubasher video. The video shows the reception of the victims of the attack on the detention centre at Al-Jumhouri Hospital.

Based on the information about the flights and the bombing in on Twitter, in addition to the time of receiving the first victims of the bombing and the testimonies of the detention centre guards, we can determine the likely time targeting the centre ranges between 00:50 - 02:30 on 21 January 2022.

Location

The visual content from inside the detention centre, in Almasirah Mubasher video and pictures by SCMCHA YEMEN Twitter account showed four buildings in two different locations that were targeted, namely the first and second wards, and the seventh and eighth wards, as named by detention centre guard.

By comparing visual evidence with satellite images from Google Earth, and exclusive satellite images of the Yemeni Archive, we determined the location of the damaged buildings; wards No. 1 and 2 at coordinates: 16.931354, 43.732876, and wards No. 7 and 8 at coordinates: 16.929937, 43.730558.

A screenshot from Almasirah Mubasher video

9 A satellite image. © Yemeni Archive

A screenshot from Almasirah Mubasher video and photos from SCMCHA YEMEN Twitter account

11 A satellite image. Google Earth.

The area of the detention centre was previously a special forces camp in Saada, as the location information shows in Google Map. Then it was turned into a detention centre for African migrants and locals.

Previously, the camp was subjected to multiple air attacks from March 2015 to March 2018, hitting almost all buildings, with varying size and type of strikes, as shown by archival satellite images in Google Earth below.

First bombing on 27 March 2015. Second bombing in May 2015.

13 A satellite image, Google Earth, May 2015

14 A satellite image, Google Earth, July 2017

15 A satellite image, Google Earth, March 2018

In June 2020, the first development in the camp appeared, with the construction of a cement-brick wall surrounding the western building, and in the second half of December of the same year, the repair of the first dormitory and the restoration of the damage caused by the bombing began.

16 A satellite image, Google Earth, June 2020

17 A satellite image, Google Earth, 30 December 2020

The recent archival images available in Google Earth, dated 30 November 2021, showed the addition of walls and buildings with some unfished construction works that appeared in the post-attack images, which means that the developments continued until the end of 2021, that is, shortly before the attack .

A screenshot from Almasirah Mubasher video, Google Earth

On 19 November 2020, Walid Ali Omar al-Kathiri posted on Facebook the directives of the head of Saada Public Prosecution, in which he directed to detain suspects in the detention centre. This means that the camp has since effectively turned into a detention centre and received prisoners.

19

19 1

UN visits

Open source information include UN visits to the detention centre, all of which discussed the conditions of detained African migrants. Kakhaber Khasaia, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sub-delegation in Saada visited the centre the first time in April 2021, according to the Yemeni news agency SABA, which is affiliated to the Houthis.

20 A screenshot from Yemeni news agency SABA

In July of the same year, Andrea Noyes. Yemen Deputy Head of Office, at United Nations for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and Dina Parmer, Director of Programs at the International Organization for Migration, visited the centre, according to Almasirah website and a video published by the Issa Atef on YouTube. Analysis of visual evidence confirms that the visits were made to the detention centre.

21 A screenshot of Almasirah Net website

Screenshots from Yemen TV videos, Issa Atef, and Russian RT

23 Screenshots from Yemen TV and Issa Atef videos, on 7 July 2021

24 Google Earth satellite image of the detention centre (previously, Central Security Camp)

The Ummat as-Salam YouTube channel published a video by Almasirah TV, of Katharina Ritz, representative of the ICRC in Yemen, visiting the centre. The report stated that Catherina had visited the centre four times before, most recently on 28 December 2021 accompanied by the regional representative of ICRC.

We were not able to verify the statements claimed by the report, and we did not find tweets on Katharina Twitter during the last period referring to those visits.

Military activity at the detention centre

We did not find in the available open source content information that definitively proves the existence of military activity in the detention centre and that it was used as military base before the bombing, other than an empty truck hidden in the trees in a manner similar to the camouflage strategy used by the Houthis in camouflaging their military equipment.

The truck appeared in archival satellite images in Google Earth on 8, 13 and 14 November 2021, and disappeared on November 30. On day of the attack it reappeared behind the trees in the Almasirah Mubasher video.

25 A satellite image from Google Earth, 23 November 2021. The truck did not appear behind the trees in detention centre in Saada

26 A satellite image from Google Earth, 8 November 2021. The first appearance of the truck behind the trees

27 A satellite image from Google Earth, 13 November 2021. The truck is still behind the trees

28 A satellite image from Google Earth, 14 November 2021. The truck is still behind the trees

29 A satellite image from Google Earth, 14 November 2021, different angle. The truck is still behind the trees.

30 A satellite image from Google Earth, 30 November 2021. The truck disappeared

31 A screenshot from Almasirah Mubasher video

A video of Militias Monitor twitter account. An air attack by coalition aircraft on a Houthi military vehicle in the trees on one of the military fronts. (Example of Houthi camouflage methods)

As the truck was not bombed, this means that it was not on target list of the air strikes on detention centre and it is almost the only activity available in open source content that raises suspicion, which suggests that there no confirmed military activity in the detention centre.

Probable responsibility

The joint forces of the Saudi led coalition acknowledged targeting the Special Forces Camp – previously, Central Security - as a legitimate military target for its use in its military activities, but said that it was not notified that the target site is a detention center and that it was not asked by any UN organization or international non-governmental organization to include it in the No-strike list. The Coalition also said “it has not been proven to the Coalition that there were distinctive symbols in accordance to the International Humanitarian Law.”

In the statement published the next day after the attack, the coalition confirmed that the detention center in Saada was not included in the No-strike list according to the strategy approved by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen (OCHA) and that it was not notified of it by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The coalition referred the incident documents to the Joint Incidents Assessment Team for investigation and publication of the results upon completion, according to the Team’s statement.

Based on mechanism for determining locations within the No-strike list, the office responsible for collecting this data from all organizations and government agencies is the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen. The detention centre was visited by the deputy director of the Office in April 2021. Other organizations visited it, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration, which are supposed to have included the site in the list of No-strike list earlier.

If it is proven that the location of the detention centre has been included in the No-strike list, and the coalition was aware of it, the coalition could be held responsible for violating the laws of war.

Raids and used ammunition

The detention centre was hit by three air raids using different types of ammunition due to the impact in each location. The first hit the northern wards and two others hit the southern wards resulting in casualties among the prisoners.

First Raid: (ranked in order of greatest damage)

It targeted Ward No. 1, which is one of the most overcrowded wards, as shown by the surveillance cameras in Al-Hawiya Channel video, and caused damage to the place with an area of ​​approximately 1200 square meters. The missile crater appeared in the videos of As-Sahat Channel and Almasirah Mubasher.

33 3 A screenshot from Almasirah Mubasher video

33 2 A satellite image from Google Earth, showing the area of ​​destruction using Google Earth Ruler

33 A satellite image from Google Earth, showing the area of ​​destruction using Google Earth Ruler

34 Screenshots from As-Sahat video and Almasira Mubasher YouTube

35 Screenshots from the videos by Al-Hawiya Channel and Ansar Allah Media Centre

Ammunition used

Remnants of the ammunition used in the first raid were shown in a video published by Ansar Allah Media Centre. It shows a part of Paveway II - GBU-12 guided bomb which serves as the warhead for the MK-82 bomb, made in Texas by the American Raytheon, as the code written on a piece in the video show. While it is not possible to determine the manufacturer of the MK-82 bomb, since Saudi Arabia has started manufacturing the bomb locally since March 2018.

36 A screenshot from Ansar Allah Media Center video

38 2

Second raid:

The side of Ward No. (8) - a ground floor - was hit impacting the sidewalk and created a large hole in the wall, impacting the area of the windows and formed the shape they appeared on. The fall angle was estimated at 39. The rubble flew into the interior, where many of the prisoners.

39 1 A screenshot from Almasirah Mubasher video. On the left, a screenshot modified with increased light to illustrate the hole in the fence

39 Screenshots from Almasirah video and Ansar Allah Media Centre video

A screenshot from Ansar Allah Media Center video, and a satellite image from Google Earth, with Image Angle tool

41 Geometric design simulating the location and angle of the bomb landing on ward No. 8

Third raid:

The third raid hit ward No. 7 - adjacent to ward No. 8, and hit the upper part of the building, which is likely to be empty. African migrant prisoners are in the ground floor. The scenes after the incident did not show any victims being pulled out of the site.

42 Screenshots from Abu Hussein Al-Moayad videos for Almasirah Mubasher, and Yemen Today YouTube

43 A screenshot from Almasirah Mubasher video

Material damage:

The raids almost completely destroyed the building of ward No. 1 and the wall surrounding the building, as well as the upper floor of an adjacent building, and made a hole in the wall of ward No. 8 and another in ward No. 7. It also impacted some of the walls and the fence surrounding the building.

A screenshot from Almasirah Mubasher video and a satellite by Yemeni Archive

A screenshot from Almasirah Mubasher video and a satellite image from Google Earth

Victims

The Ministry of Health and Population - affiliated with the Houthis - announced the final toll of the victims of the attack on 25 January 2022, which was estimated at 91 dead and 236 wounded, after the rescue teams completed the process of exhuming the victims of the attack on the detention centre. The numbers did not include details on the number of victims from Africans and locals.

Arafat jibrel Bakre, head Oromia Organization for Human Rights, stated in a tweet that the attack on the detention centre resulted in 15 deaths and a large number of wounded, including 9 women who were visiting their families in detention.

There is no mention of women casualties in the attack. Visits in Yemeni prisons are usually in broad daylight. It was written on the gate of the detention centre that visits are at 11 am.

46 A screenshot from Almasirah Mubasher video

While open source visual content did not show any African migrants victims, except for a wounded survivor who was injured in the thigh, and appeared in a video by Almasirah Mubasher.

47 A Screenshot from Almasirah Mubasher video

At minute 02:35 seconds, in an part of the video, which was published by Abu Hussein Al-Moayad, Almasirah reporter, a prison guard confirms the safety of all Africans on the ground floor of ward no. 7.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights clarified that the detention centre in Saada is believed to be holding 1300 pre-trial detainees as well as 700 migrants.

Most of the visual evidence, such as the clothes and the language spoken by the injured, indicate that most of the victims of the attack were Yemeni detainees for various reasons, as well as some guards.

Conclusion

Based on the information above, Yemeni Archive concluded that an attack with three air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition targeted the detention centre (previously, the Central Security Camp) in Saada, at dawn on Friday, 21 January 2022, killing 91, and injuring 263 prisoners including African migrants.

Through open source information, we found that the Central Security Camp was bombed between 2015-2018, and turned into a detention centre since June 2020, which hosted African migrants since the beginning of 2021, and from April to December 28 of the same year. The centre was visited almost three times by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen and the International Organization for Migration.

Despite the UN visits, the Saudi led coalition denied the inclusion of the aforementioned site in the No-strike list within the Humanitarian Notification System and considered the centre a legitimate military target and that it was used for military activities. But the information regarding the inclusion of the site in the No-strike list is not available. If it was included, and the Coalition was informed of it, the coalition bears responsibility for violations of the rules of international humanitarian law that protect civilians and civilian objects.

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