At least 31 Somali refugees are dead after the boat they were traveling in from Yemen to Sudan was attacked by what might have been a U.S.-made Apache helicopter.
International Organization for Migration (IOM) confirmed "dozens of deaths and many dozens of survivors brought to hospitals."
A local coastguard officer told Reuters that "the refugees, carrying official [United Nations Refugee Agency] documents, were on their way from Yemen to Sudan when they were attacked by an Apache helicopter near the Bab al-Mandeb strait."
If the reports are true, Yemen Peace Project director of policy and advocacy Kate Kizer noted online, the Apache helicopter "likely was U.S. sold,
#Saudi manned (last sale last fall)."
— (((Kate Kizer))) (@KateKizer) March 17, 2017
Journalist Samuel Oakford wrote:
Local reports suggest attack was carried out by Saudi-led Coalition helicopters. Could be UAE. US also present. https://t.co/5zN258I7T1
— Samuel Oakford (@samueloakford) March 17, 2017
Middle East Eye reported: "Photos from the scene showed bodies of men, women, and children laid out on the ground at a small harbor, covered in pieces of colored fabric."
The outlet added:
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It was not immediately clear who carried out the attack, although the Saudi-led coalition is known to fly Apache helicopters near the strategic Bab al-Mandeb strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and carries millions of barrels of oil per day.
Local news site Aden al-Ghad reported that jets from the Saudi-led coalition—which has led a ground and air campaign against Houthi rebels since March 2015—had "intensified its strikes" in Hudaida on Thursday.
"Coalition planes launched dozens of strikes on coastal areas of Hudaida, in support of advances by troops on the ground," a local source told the site, which is known to be opposed to the Houthi rebels.
The Guardian further reported:
There was no immediate comment from the coalition. Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition in the war in Yemen, has U.S.-built Apache A-64 Longbow attack helicopters.
The kingdom's Al-Madinah class frigates, one of which was damaged in an attack by a Houthi militia in January, are also capable of carrying a single helicopter. Other naval forces operating in the area are also equipped with helicopters, including the U.S. military.
The U.N. Refugee Agency said it was "appalled" by the incident.
"As conditions in Yemen deteriorate as a result of the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis, refugees and asylum seekers are increasingly fleeing onwards, following established migratory routes, including across the Red Sea to Sudan with the intention of heading onwards to Europe," said agency spokesman William Spindler. "This tragic incident is the latest in which innocent civilians, including Yemenis, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, continue to suffer and disproportionately bear the brunt of the conflict in Yemen."
UPI reported Thursday that Boeing just this week "received a $3.2 billion contract modification to support the U.S. Army's foreign military sale of Apache helicopters to Saudi Arabia." The U.S. has already sold dozens of Apaches to Saudi Arabia, along with billions in additional arms. On Tuesday, Amnesty International urged the Trump administration to halt future sales immediately.