MK-84 Bomb

Investigation into alleged Yemen war crime: 97 killed

An investigation has begun into an alleged war crime in Yemen and whether smart-bombs fired at a busy market had guidance systems produced by a US arms company with a factory in Fife.

Airstrikes by warplanes last month in northwest Yemen killed at least 97 civilians including 25 children.

Two bombs hit a crowded market in the village of Mastaba on March 15th and Human Rights Watch later visited the site to carry out an investigation.

The attack was the latest incident in Yemen’s war where over the past year at least 700 children have died, amid allegations that civilians have been targeted by the Royal Saudi Air Force.

Saudi Arabia is among several nations supporting President Hadi who is fighting Houthi rebels backed by Iran but there have been mounting claims of war crimes by the Saudi-led coalition.

MP’s are currently investigating allegations of UK complicity in alleged war crimes and whether Scots manufactured missile systems for bombs have been used in Yemen.

Human Rights Watch said it visited Mastaba on 28th March and found remnants of a US-supplied MK-84 2000-pound bomb.

HRW investigators also reviewed photographs of fragments of another bomb found at the site two days earlier.

Remnants of an MK-84 bomb paired with a “Paveway laser guidance kit” had been discovered on the 26th March, according to HRW.

Paveway laser guidance systems for smart bombs are made by US company Raytheon, the fifth largest arms firm in the world, which describes itself as “the world’s premier missile maker”.

It emerged last year that Raytheon was moving all of its weapons manufacturing in Britain to Fife, Scotland, where it makes Paveway laser guidance systems in the town of Glenrothes.

HRW said that on March 15 around noon, two aerial bombs hit the market in Mastaba, in the northern Hajja governorate, approximately 3o miles from the Saudi border.

Its report said: “The first bomb landed directly in front of a complex of shops and a restaurant.”

“The second struck beside a covered area near the entrance to the market, killing and wounding people escaping, as well as others trying to help the wounded.”

“Human Rights Watch interviewed 23 witnesses to the airstrikes, as well as medical workers at two area hospitals that received the wounded.”

A United Nations human rights team visited the site the day after the attack and compiled the names of 97 civilians killed in the strike, including 25 children.

Mohammed Yehia Muzayid, a cleaner at the market injured in the attack, told HRW: “When the first strike came, the world was full of blood.

“People were all in pieces, their limbs were everywhere. People went flying. Most of the people, we collected in pieces, we had to put them in plastic bags.”

“A leg, an arm, a head. There wasn’t more than five minutes between the first and second strike.”

“The second strike was there, at the entrance to the market. People were taking the injured out, and it hit the wounded and killed them. A plane was circling overhead.”

On March 16, the day after the attack, a Saudi military spokesman for the coalition said the strike targeted “a militia gathering”.

Human Rights Watch called on Britain and America to suspend all weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.

Priyanka Motaparthy, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch said: “One of the deadliest strikes against civilians in Yemen’s year-long war involved US-supplied weapons, illustrating tragically why countries should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia.”

“The US and other coalition allies should send a clear message to Saudi Arabia that they want no part in unlawful killings of civilians.”

Between 2006 and 2015, Raytheon won bomb contracts worth $1.3bn from the US Department of Defence.

In May 2013 Raytheon announced it had delivered more than 200 Paveway™ GBU-50 guidance kits to a European partner.

The company’ statement said then: “The GBU-50 provides the 2000-pound MK-84 or the BLU-109 penetrator with all-weather GPS navigation combined with precision terminal laser guidance.”

Raytheon’s Fife factory produces the newest Paveway laser guidance systems.

In reply to HRW’s report, a spokesman for Raytheon said: “Raytheon’s capabilities contribute towards making the world a safer place and naturally the company complies with all export regulations in any of the markets, in which it operates.”

“Raytheon is a significant contributor to the economy in Scotland through employing well over 600 people in Glenrothes and through exporting £500m of advanced systems and technologies since 2002.”

“In Scotland Raytheon has world leading capability in cutting edge micro-electronics, which is driving efficiencies in commercial aviation and automotive markets, as well as others which have the potential to deliver great economic benefits.”

The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen has documented 119 coalition sorties relating to war violations.

Human Rights Watch has documented 36 unlawful airstrikes which have killed at least 550 civilians.

Douglas Chapman MP, of the SNP, is on the UK government committee investigating British arms sales linked to the Yemen war via Saudi Arabia.

He said: “These latest reports fly in the face assurances we have received from David Cameron’s UK Government about the safeguards around export controls.”

“It’s absolutely horrific to hear of these latest deaths and injuries to innocent civilians at the hands of the Saudi-led coalition.”

“Myself and other members of the Arms Export Controls Committee heard last month from human rights groups about the loss of life and the growing humanitarian crisis that is happening in Yemen.”

“We need to go beyond assurances and demand accurate and truthful answers from the UK Government about this latest reported incident.”

A UK Government spokeswoman: “We are aware of allegations of a strike on a market in Yemen on 26 March. It is important that thorough and conclusive investigations are conducted into this incident.”

“The Ministry of Defence monitors incidents of alleged international humanitarian law violations (IHL) and informs the government’s analysis of Saudi Arabia’s compliance with IHL.”

“The UK Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world.”

“The Government is satisfied that extant licences for Saudi Arabia are compliant with the UK’s export licensing criteria.”

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “Thousands have been killed by the humanitarian catastrophe that has been inflicted on Yemen, and the situation is getting worse.”

“One place where the pain will not be felt is in the boardrooms of arms companies like Raytheon, where war and conflict are seen as a business opportunity.”

“Raytheon’s weapons have been central to the bombardment and devastation.”

“There is a growing consensus that the destruction hasn’t just been immoral, it has also been illegal, and that is why there must be a full investigation into this assault and the legality of the war.”

“The UK government’s role has been shameful, it has not just fuelled and facilitated the bombing, it has also been a cheerleader for the Saudi regime.”

A version of the above story was published by the Sunday Mail on 10th April, 2016.

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