LONDON — A US cruise missile carrying cluster bombs was behind a
December attack in Yemen that killed 55 people, most of them civilians,
Amnesty International (AI) said on Monday.
The London-based rights
group released photographs that it said showed the remains of a US-made
Tomahawk missile and unexploded cluster bombs that were apparently used
in the December 17, 2009 attack on the rural community of Al-Maajala in
Yemen's southern Abyan province.
"Amnesty International is
gravely concerned by evidence that cluster munitions appear to have been
used in Yemen," said Mike Lewis, the group's arms control researcher.
munitions have indiscriminate effects and unexploded bomblets threaten
lives and livelihoods for years afterwards," he said.
strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt to
detain them is at the very least unlawful," said Philip Luther, deputy
director of AI's Middle East and North Africa Programme.
defence ministry had claimed responsibility for the attack without
mentioning a US role, saying between 24 and 30 militants had been killed
at an alleged Al-Qaeda training camp.
But a local official said
49 civilians, among them 23 children and 17 women, were killed
AI said that a Yemeni parliamentary committee
reported in February that in addition to 14 alleged Al-Qaeda militants,
41 local residents, including 14 women and 21 children, were killed in
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"The fact that so many of the victims were actually
women and children indicates that the attack was in fact grossly
irresponsible, particularly given the likely use of cluster munitions,"
AI said photographs it had obtained showed damaged
remains of the BGM-109D Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile.
type of missile, launched from a warship or submarine, is designed to
carry a payload of 166 cluster sub-munitions (bomblets) which each
explode into over 200 sharp steel fragments that can cause injuries up
to 150 metres (about 500 feet) away," an AI statement said.
incendiary material inside the bomblet also spreads fragments of burning
zirconium designed to set fire to nearby flammable objects," it said.
Yemen parliamentary committee had said when it visited the site that
"all the homes and their contents were burnt and all that was left were
traces of furniture," AI said.
AI said it had requested
information about the attack from the Pentagon, but had not yet received
Amnesty said it had obtained the photographs from its
own sources, but had not released them earlier in order to ascertain
their authenticity and give the United States time to respond.
United States and Yemen have not yet signed the Convention on Cluster
Munitions, a treaty designed to comprehensively ban such weapons which
is due to enter into force on 1 August, 2010.