The hidden truth in the explosion of the Houthi warehouse in SawanSeptember 10, 2019
14 civilians killed as a result of explosions in Sawan - Sanaa
On April 7, 2019, two explosions occurred in the Sawan area east of the Yemen’s capital Sana’a. The explotions coincided with airstrikes around the city by the Saudi-led Arab Coalition. It was not immediately clear what happened as there were many narratives of the incident. Yemeni Archive went to the impact site, inspected it, and met with residents in the neighbourhood to gain a better understanding of what happened. In addition to field research, our team relied on open-source content like videos, photos and reports found online, which we verified.
open-source tools to verify videos, photos, and reports posted on the Internet, as well as gathering information from eyewitnesses and analysing media coverage of the incident.
Based on the available information, as well as interviews with eyewitnesses of the event, Yemeni Archive is led to believe that there were two explosions as a result of a Houthi-controlled warehouse being struck the afternoon of April 7, 2019, between approximately 11:40 and 12:10 Yemen time.
The explosions destroyed houses around the warehouse as well as four schools located nearby. A number of reports indicate that at least fifteen students were killed and more than 100 students were injured as a result of these explosions. Based on the available documentation and witness statements, Yemeni Archive was not able to determine the cause of the explosions. Reports are inconclusive, and at times contradictory with the smoke of the first explosion not clearly indicating that the warehouse was targeted in a missile strike.
After the explosions, the Houthis changed the official who had been in charge of statistics, and prevented the new official from publishing any information regarding the explosions and resulting casualties. The Houthis, or Ansar Allah movement, is a Zaidi religious movement based in Saada, north of Yemen. It was founded in the early 1990s under the name of “the Young Believers Movement” and then Ansar Allah, but is more widely known by media as the Houthis after the movement’s founder Badr al-Din al-Houthi. Currently led by Abdul Malik bin Badr al-Din al-Huthi, the group is a major party to the conflict in Yemen, controlling much of western Yemen from the capital Sana’a to the coast.
Conflicting information regarding the incident
There were conflicting social media, official, and local news reports about the explosion . Ayman al-Shami posted two photos on his Facebook account from this location where he claimed there was an aerial bombardment on Sawan area.
Ayman al-Shami’s posted on Facebook
The 4webhelp tool shows that the post was published on Facebook at 11:43 am Yemen time:
At 11:46 local time, the Facebook page of the “silent individuals of Imran” published a post mentioning sounds of explosions in the Sawan area of the capital Sana’a. Later, conflicting news and hypotheses related to the incident followed. For example on his Facebook account, Mohammed Al-Omari posted a video showing the aftermath of an explosion that shook his house. Asif al-Yamani, a resident of the area, also posted a video taken from this location documenting the second explosion.
A third video, published by Al-Jazeera, shows traces of glass fragments as well as the destruction in Al-Ra’ii School. The video also shows injured people being treated in a hospital, as well as smoke rising from the debris left by the explosion in the area. This indicates that the used weapon was land-based, rather than a result of an air weapon.
On the same day, the Ibb governorate’s media adviser published a tweet confirming that an explosion followed a fire in a warehouse located near the school. The tweet shows does not contain any sound of a rocket or any remains.
On his Facebook page the next day, journalist Ramah al-Jabri published a post that included four videos filmed by different citizens from different locations: (site 1, site 2, site 3, site 4), in which he tried to demonstrate that the explosion did not result from an aerial bombardment, but rather from a fire from somewhere in Sawan that resulted in a large explosion. There was no sound of flying or shelling, and the post indicated that the explosion may have been the result of a nearby fuel station catching fire. In one of the videos, a person can be heard saying that the workshop was burned - he did not say that it was bombed. This video shows the explosion from four different angles:
Several Yemeni websites published inconsistent information about what happened in Sawan. On the day of the incident, the Suhail TV Channel published a post on its Facebook page which mentioned that a number of female students had died or been injured as a result of gas tanker exploding near a girls’ school in Sawan.
On the same day, Al-Masira website, of the Ansar Allah group, reported on the bombing on a school and houses in Sawan by the Arab Coalition. Their reporting increased the number of victims to more than one hundred dead and injured. A few hours after the incident, Arab Press published an article in which they stated: “Three students were killed by a big explosion that rocked Sawan area in Sana’a. The explosion was caused by the burning of the carbon plant warehouse, located next to Al-Ra’ii Girls School in the area and close to the 40th round, and reports of high casualties due to suffocation.”
A source in Sanaa told Arab Press that a large explosion rocked Sawan, and that smoke plumes from carbon plant building were visible. He said that the factory contained chemicals, and confirmed that three students had died and many had been injured. The source further pointed out that the explosion’s force resulted in shrapnel being spread to the nearby neighbourhoods and damaged several houses.
There have been several narratives regarding the explosion. Several news websites and TV channels, including by Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath TV (one of the Arab Coalition’s media platforms), have reported that the explosion was caused by an airstrike launched by the Saudi-led Arab Coalition forces.
Breaking news on Al-Hadath channel after the explosion (Source)
Al-Arabiya and Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath later republished news of the explosion hourly on all its news bulletins until 1:00pm GMT. In their coverage, Al-Arabiya, Sky News and Saudi News channels each broadcast statements by the Joint Command of the Arab Coalition denying any military operations of the coalition inside Sanaa. The further stated that the operation is limited to the perimeter of the capital.
However, several websites published news that the warehouse - the site of the explosion - was used as a weapons factory and a military ammunition depot. This was confirmed by eyewitnesses to Yemeni Archive, who pointed out that the front of the warehouse appeared to be a carpentry workshop, but that this was disguising the warehouses true purpose. Several of those interviewed by Yemeni Archive said they did not hear sounds of planes before the first explosion, which the people in Sanaa are used to hearing since the conflict began. Eyewitnesses said they saw smoke rising from the warehouse, and that they saw flames spreading at the same time as they saw warehouse workers escaping. Shortly thereafter, eyewitnesses describe a second explosion that was much more violent than the first.
It is worth mentioning that some of those witnesses Yemeni Archive spoke to stated that following the second explosion Ansar Allah forces gathered at explosion site and fired warning shots in the air. Witnesses claim that Ansar Allah forces beat people who had gathered at the site, and detained a number of individuals who tried to film the incident on their mobile phones. Witnesses further stated that Ansar Allah forces transported large quantities of unknown materials from the incident site to an unknown location. In addition, a Human Rights Watch report mentioned that Houthi forces prevented human rights researchers from reaching the area until April 11, four days after the incident.
Yemeni Archive could not determine the cause of the first explosion, due to conflicting official and unofficial narratives. However, through field visits and visual analysis, Yemeni Archive is led to believe that the human damage and the effects of destruction on nearby buildings were caused mainly by the second explosion.
Victims and hospitals
A report published by the Ministry of Public Health and Housing of Ansar Allah group states that fourteen people were killed as a result of the explosions. Other sources have stated that the explosions resulted in the deaths of sixteen people. Human Rights Watch’s report published May 9, 2019 finds that that explosions resulted in the death of fifteen children and the injurty of more than 100 children and adults. Khairat Kabalari, the UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, stated that “An explosion in Sana’a this week killed 14 children and critically injured 16 others, with the possibility of a higher actual number of dead and wounded children.”
Yemeni Archive conducted a field visit to the hospitals that received victims of the explosion, especially Al-Haramain Hospital in Sawan, which received the largest number of those receiving care. While Yemeni Archive was unable to acquire any medical reports stating that any of the those affected by the explosion died as a result of munitions near the impact site, the presence of a security representative by Ansar Allah group named “Bashir Najad” may have influenced the reliability of hospital reports. Bishir Najad is a full-time employee whose responsibilities include recording cases coming to the hospital and preparing preliminary reports of their health status. Some Yemeni Archive sources have stated that they felt his appointment to this role is due to fear by Ansar Allah of disclosing any information related to the victims of the incident.
At nearby “AL-Muttahidoun” Hospital, which also received a number of victims of the incident, the director of the hospital, “Adel al-Ghabri,” prevented Yemeni Archive staff from accessing medical reports of the victims of the incident, stating that all information the hospital has was already submitted to the Ministry of Health, and that the management of the hospital can not talk about this issue further. Medical reports are usually submitted from the capital’s hospitals to the Ministry of Health after six months. That the Yemeni Archive team requested access to the reports one month after the incident, and reports had already been sent to the Ministry of Health indicates they felt there was an urgent need for reports regarding this incident.
The location of the incident and the type of the explosion
In order to determine the exact location of the incident and the type of the explosion, Yemeni Archive relied on the analysis of images and videos circulating in the media and social media.
The image from the Al Jazeera video shows one of the minarets of the Tawhid Mosque behind the building of the Al-Ra’ii School.
In another picture published by Yemeni Press, a mosque appears next to Al-Ra’ii school with two minarets, which corresponds to the Tawhid Mosque in Google Maps.
The picture also depicts trees behind the wall of Al-Ra’ii School (green), Al-Tawheed Mosque (red), and Al-Ra’ii School (blue).
Looking at the source of the smoke in the previous picture, Yemeni Archive has determined that it is likely that the smoke from the explosion occurred within the area defined in yellow on the following Google map.
In the previous photo from a video taken inside the school, the source of smoke is clearly visible. Depending on the direction the photographer faced when entering the school, it was possible to locate the room in blue, and the building in red on a map. The source of smoke has been determined to be in the area specified in yellow on the following Google map.
In a video posted on “The explosion now” group on Facebook, smoke is visible behind a workshop, followed by an explosion. A sign can be seen within the video that contains many words, including “Abdul Hakim Najdi shops.” Under it, the word “iron” can be read, which is confirmed by one of the comments on the video in which a commenter says “This is a courtyard that has an iron press.”
Below is a photo taken by Yemeni Archive of the impact site.
Another photo, posted below, was uploaded by Mohammed Al-Hussam, a resident living near the impact site, to his Facebook account.
During a field visit to the impact site, Yemeni Archive found the remains of hand grenades. After analysing one of the used bombs, it was determined to have the structure of an Mk 2A1 munition, developed during World War II by the United States.
Research confirms that many countries, such as Iran, China and Israel have developed and manufactured these munitions using the same structure and work mechanism. Its widespread use meant that Yemeni Archive could not determine its exact source based on the munition alone.
Sawan neighbourhood is a newly constructed neighbourhood, and the explosion caused the destruction of a nearby house inhabited by three families, as well as severe damage to an additional house. The explosion also shattered doors and windows, destroyed the fence of the workshop adjacent to the warehouse, the inner room of the workshop.
In addition to the photos published by Yemeni Archive, some of the owners of the houses adjacent to the impact site published photos showing the destruction in their homes. For example, Mohammed Hamid al-Husam posted photos on his Facebook account in which he states that his house, thirty meters from the site of the blasts, suffered significant material damage.