On the evening of June 9, nearly one week after the attack on Saleh’s compound, the skies over Sana’a lit up with gunfire. Explosions rocked the city and it was the most intense display of gunfire yet. Terrified, people ran for cover wherever they could. Many thought war had broken out. A few hours later, state TV confirmed that it was just the Republican Guard celebrating Saleh’s successful surgery. Pro-Saleh supporters would join the “celebrations” by going out into the streets and firing into the air. Meanwhile, the rest of Sana’a remained terrified, convinced that what they were experiencing were not “celebrations” but a message aimed at them from Ahmed Ali. It was at worst a form of psychological warfare, at best a reckless show of force.

 

 

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Saleh takes a hit

June 4, 2011

It was an especially chaotic day in Sana’a, if that’s even possible to believe at this stage. The biggest news to come out of today is that of Saleh’s injury. He was wounded by shellfire as he was praying when his presidential palace came under attack. Government officials say he escaped with light injuries but six top officials were more seriously hurt while three of his guards were killed. The details of his injury remain unclear.

Many tonight are speculating that he perhaps sustained more critical injuries in light of the fact that he did not make a speech tonight, as government officials had originally announced he would. Instead, in what is seen as a huge sign of weakness, he released a short audio statement in which he reiterated his commitment to defeating the Ahmar clan.

Hamid al-Ahmar, brother to Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, accused Saleh of orchestrating the attack in order to tarnish their image.

Here are the rest of today’s updates:

  • The Hadda neighborhood of Sana’a was hit with heavy mortar shelling and gunfire when government forces attacked Hamid al-Ahmar’s home from Nahdayn mountain. The presidential palace is also in Hadda and was attacked by shellfire. Sounds of sporadic shelling tonight continue to come out of Hadda
  • Attacks against Hasaba continued today
  • Scattered skirmishes along the parameters of Change Square between the 1st Armored Division and Saleh’s armed thugs
  • I observed many trying to flee Sana’a today with their belongings strapped to the tops of their vehicles. Bus drivers were refusing to drive out of Sana’a and were rejecting passengers because of fears of being attacked on their way out of the city. There are reported clashes along roads outside of Sana’a
  • Gas prices continue to climb along with the cost of food and just about everything else
  • The airport closes periodically depending on the severity of clashes. Professor James Spencer’s interesting theory is that the airport is a joint military and civilian airfield. “By not allowing civilian aircraft onto the runway, the YAF can provide far quicker close air support to the Government forces (indeed, the aircraft may be sitting on the runways ready to go.)”

I tried to get a picture of what happened last night in Sana’a by talking to several officers and activists. Below is a list of last night’s conflict zones as far as I could determine.

  •  Soldiers belonging to Ali Mohsen’s 1st Armored Division confirmed that Saleh’s security forces along with thugs attempted to enter the Square from the north side (area known as Sawad Hanash) but were repelled back by Mohsen’s soldiers. This is the first time they actually made an attempt at entering the square, and I was told they most likely would try again tonight.
  • The area by Commerce Court (20th street), which is south of the Square, had snipers stationed on buildings and baltajia, or paid thugs, walking the streets.  Many people believe these thugs are actually officers dressed in civilian clothes. They were intimidating people going in and out of the Square. But no conflict.
  • There was conflict in Hasaba, as there is every night between Ahmar’s men and security forces.
  • On al-Ghada Street, about half a kilometer from Change Square and to the west, thugs and security forces were gathered. Security forces were shooting mortar shells from this area (al-Ghada) to an area called Jawlat Saba, which is filled with Ahmar fighters.
  • According to reports, Sheikh Mohamed Abdullah al-Qadhi, who is  a member of Parliament and supports the opposition, had his home attacked in al-Asbuhi last night. He’s related to the President. Al-Asbuhi is located about 7 kilometers from the Square (about 15-20 minutes by car without traffic), west of Sana’a.

This information was recently compiled from testimonies received from victims, eyewitnesses, medical personnel, and informants. Keep in mind this is only a compilation of confirmed testimonies and includes stats from Sana’a only. The list is actually much longer. As HOOD receives more testimonies, this list will be updated.

This is NOT a list of those who have lost their lives. I will post that up soon in a separate post.

The names of most eyewitnesses listed below have not been released because they requested anonymity out of fear for their lives.  If you represent an international human rights organization and would like more information, please contact HOOD.

__________

February

11 detained

March

91 detained

*Total released for both months is 90

__________

April

200 detained

100-150 released

  • Tamim Alamrani walked into HOOD’s office in Sana’a and provided testimony. He witnessed an armored vehicle run over the bodies of four demonstrators. Security forces carried away the bodies and washed the asphalt.
  • During the march to Kentucky round, witnesses said more than fifty bodies, injured and dead,  were carried into private cars by security forces.
  • One eyewitness videotaped the demonstration at Kentucky and witnessed eight people get shot. He passed out from the nerve gas and was taken to the field hospital, where his camera was stolen.
  • One eye witness was rounded up with about 70-80 other demonstrators by security forces. They were taken into trucks and driven to  a private home.  There, they were interrogated about their protest activities. One victim was severely beaten and passed away. After about 24 hours, nurses entered the room and injected them with shots. They passed out and when they awoke found themselves lying on Hayel street in Sana’a.
  • Human rights attorney Khaled Alenesi says he was almost run over by security forces during a march in Rowayshan, Sana’a.
  • A young child, believed to be about ten, was shot by security forces. He was hit in the head and taken to the front yard of a private home. A woman ran outside the home to protect the boy’s body but a struggle ensued between her and “balatajia”, or paid thugs. They eventually were able to take the body away.

*1,500 were injured during the April 9th demonstration in Kentucky alone.

__________

MAY

60 detained

10-15 released

  • May 11: Four sympathetic central security officers witnessed 100-200 people get taken to the Military hospital. Most were injured.
  • Six demonstrators camped out in Zara’a street, Sana’a. Security forces showed up and opened fire. Five went missing, the sixth was injured and taken to the makeshift hospital.
  • As he was exiting Change Square at around 8pm, an activist was approached by three men from national security. They asked him questions about the regime and pretended to be sympathizers with the opposition. They followed him to an Internet café, where he was getting poems printed to be used at future demonstrations. As he walked out of the office, they threatened him with guns and told him to get into a car that was waiting outside. Once in the car, they blindfolded him and drove him to an unknown location, where he was tortured with electrical devices, wires, cigarette burns, and chains. They accused him of illegally distributing guns to people. They forced him to sign a confession, blindfolded him again and transferred him to a hospital.

This is footage from the May 11th march to the Prime Minister’s building in Sana’a. I had trouble uploading it initially but was finally able to post it. A friend and I were covering the march that day when Saleh’s security forces opened fire into our street. We were immediately rushed into a nearby barbershop by protesters. We remained in the barbershop until the firing stopped and it was safe to exit.

As we took cover, a demonstrator outside was shot in the head and his body was carried away by Saleh’s men. All that remained of him was a blood-soaked scarf. Protesters asked me to film his scarf and to show it to the world so that in their words, the world could see Saleh’s brutality against peaceful protesters.  You can see that footage here.

HOOD, a local human rights NGO, recently revealed that it was state policy to carry away the bodies of dead and injured protesters in an effort to conceal crimes against protesters. They are in possession of leaked documents and have been collecting eyewitness testimony from victims and informants to build a case against Saleh. You can read more on that story here.

The following is an open letter from the Coordinating Council for the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC) to President Obama.  CCYRC describes itself as  an organization comprised of five committees with “members from movements groups, tribes groups, and governorates coordinators.”

In a statement released with the letter, CCYRC writes: “It would be so nice if President Obama acknowledged the Yemeni protesters’ existence during the speech on Thursday. He could really undo a lot of the damage and increase the level of confidence between millions of Yemenis and the US government. A short statement would go a long way to explain that the US is seeking a way to avoid a bloodbath.”

—-

His Excellency Mr. Barak Obama
President of the United States of America
Office of the President The White House
Washington D.C.

Date: May 17, 2011

Subject: Yemeni Youth Revolution: Yemenis have a Dream

Mr. President, Today, President Saleh is ignoring the voices of millions of Yemenis who are calling for a civil state that respects democratic values, human rights and public freedoms. We dream of a state that provides every Yemen with fair and equal opportunities to live and prosper in a secure homeland. Yemenis youth in and outside the country aspire to build a civil and peaceful society. Yemenis are counting on the U.S. to take a more active position to this end. the Gulf Cooperation Council’s initiative failed right after President Saleh refused to sign it. He has rather shown more brutality, promotion of corruption, suppression and failure to provide the basic economic and personal security for the average Yemeni.

Your Excellency, This is a unique opportunity for your administration to endorse the struggle of the people in Yemen against the dictatorship of Mr. Saleh. This conflict is between a ruler and millions of people who can no longer tolerate his reign, corruption and insecurity he’s brought. This is not a political conflict rather it’s a human struggle of a people who want to decide their own fate and end family rule in Yemen.

We are calling for your leadership to support our movement that seeks to build a new Yemen and prosperous society which can become a true partner in combating terrorism with the global community. We build on your administration’s wisdom to stand by and support the freedom seekers and the youth who represent more than 70 percent of the society, instead of supporting an ailing and already falling regime.

Mr. President, America’s democracy inspires us, and our people deserve no less than what decent human beings are entitled to. America’s standing and leadership in promoting the values of democracy and freedom is at stake. We trust in your humanity and leadership to know that our plight and struggle will be a priority for you in the coming days.

Please, don’t let us down. Thank you for your inspiration and support for freedom and democracy in Yemen and across the globe.

May God bless the people of Yemen and the United States of America.

The Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution for Change

Prominent human rights attorney Khaled Alanesi says it is now state policy to kidnap dead and injured protesters in an effort to conceal crimes committed against peaceful demonstrators. I met with Alanesi in his tent today, located inside Taghyeer “Change” Square, the name given to the area outside of Sana’a University. Thousands of protesters have set up tents there and plan on remaining until Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s ruler of 33 years, steps down.

Alanesi is working with HOOD, a human rights NGO based in Yemen, to build a case against Saleh to present to the international community. In a major press conference held yesterday at Change Square, a spokesman for HOOD announced that they were in possession of leaked government documents which show that dozens of corpses of protesters were buried in mass graves and disposed of in trash bins throughout the Beit Bous area of Sana’a.

According to Alanesi, this became normal protocol for Saleh’s security forces soon after the March 18 demonstration, now known as Bloody Friday. On that day, fifty-two demonstrators were gunned down by police and snipers during a peaceful demonstration after they had finished completing the Friday prayers. Saleh’s regime faced severe international backlash for the incident. Since then, protesters have gone missing after each organized march.

HOOD is currently conducting interviews with eyewitnesses. Some of these testimonials belong to medical personnel who work at the Military hospital, which is run by Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali . Others come from demonstrators who hid during the kidnappings. What they all reveal is that Saleh’s security forces are engaged in a deadly game of deception.

Alanesi notes that the regime has been quick to exploit differences among the opposition groups. The existence of a power-struggle between the youth bloc and opposition organizers is widely known. Their disagreements range from the role of women in protests to whether a march should be held on a particular day. One such disagreement ended with the disappearance of dozens of protesters.

On April 9, the youth decided to march against the wishes of opposition organizers. Alanesi says on that evening, government agents dressed in civilian clothes approached the youth pretending to be protesters. “They told the youth that organizers were hijacking their movement. We have a formal committee that has to approve all demonstrations. These infiltrators were telling them that they had no control. They were being manipulated.”

About five hundred youth decided to march that night at the encouragement of these agents. They marched toward an area called Kentucky round. Once there, they found policemen along with state-funded thugs known as “baltajia” waiting for them. They, along with the undercover agents trapped protesters from both ends of the juncture. What happened next would set the precedent for how security forces would conduct themselves at later demonstrations.

Having trapped protesters, Saleh’s men shut off the electricity to the area. When the lights went out, the bloodshed began. Officers opened fire on trapped protesters. As the dead and injured fell, bodies were grabbed into unmarked cars and immediately driven away. When protesters failed to return home that night, some of the families headed to Change Square to look for their loved ones but got no straight answers.

Alanesi says he received a call from a doctor who worked at the Military hospital a few days after the ambush. The doctor confirmed that dozens of corpses and injured protesters were brought to the hospital the night of April 9th. Over the next few days, more doctors would contact Alanesi and HOOD describing what they witnessed. Some said injured protesters were being beaten. “Doctors would take injured protesters and place them in emergency rooms even if their injuries were minor because they wanted to protect them from the officers.”

Doctors revealed that corpses were being brought to the hospital with mutilated faces to the point where corpses were beyond recognition. Unable to identify the dead, medical personnel would fill in “unknown” on death certificates. Bodies would then be taken to a mortuary and from there, placed in mass graves. Other corpses were dismembered and disposed of in garbage bins.

Soon people began to talk. Beit Bous residents were making grim discoveries of body parts in their wells and garbage bins, and more and more eyewitnesses were coming forward. Sources from the makeshift hospital tell me that ambulances were now showing up with the baltajia at demonstrations. According to Alanesi, ambulances are normally sent by the Science and Technology hospital. But protesters were saying that they did not recognize these ambulances. There were also cars showing up with the insignia of the Red Crescent and missing license plates. They would wait for the injured and dead to fall and then drive the bodies away. Alanesi confirmed that the Red Crescent does not have any vehicles in Yemen.

HOOD has so far released one government document written by a prosecutor to his superior. Dated April 27, it requests an investigation into the remains discovered in Beit Bous. On the same document, the director responds with a rejection, stating that bodies had already been buried. According to Alanesi, the speed with which Yemeni authorities disposed of bodies and the fact that no autopsies were conducted point to a cover-up. “This is not standard procedure, to bury bodies without conducting an investigation. They were trying to cover up crimes.”

HOOD is calling for an independent investigation by the United Nations. Last week, the UN agreed to send a mission to Yemen to investigate state violence against protesters. According to Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Saleh tried to postpone their arrival until June. “They suggested we visit at the end of June; we would like to go rather earlier than that, and we stand ready to deploy as soon as we can.” Alanesi believes Saleh is biding time in order to get rid of evidence and with the hopes that a favorable deal will be reached granting him full legal immunity.

Some of the families of victims say that since the UN announcement, they’ve been approached by Yemeni authorities who are asking them to waive an investigation in exchange for monetary compensation.

Meanwhile, activists announced this month a plan to to escalate their demonstration activities. Eighteen cities and towns have launched a civil disobedience campaign. Closures of schools, shops and government buildings are planned twice weekly until Saleh steps down. The decision to escalate protests comes at the heel of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s recent meeting in Riyadh, which failed to come up with a resolution. The GCC has been trying to mediate between Saleh and the opposition for months now. Qatar recently pulled out of the GCC initiative, blaming Saleh for the stalemate.

In Sana’a, the first phase of the escalation plan was met with deadly force. At least ten protesters were killed in a march towards the government’s offices on May 11. Hundreds more were injured by live rounds and tear gas. The makeshift hospital became overwhelmed with casualties and appealed to local hospitals to help with the injured. The US released a statement the next day condemning the violence and insisting that Saleh agree to a transition plan immediately.

“This transition must begin immediately in order for the Yemeni people to realize their aspirations for a brighter, more prosperous and democratic future,” spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

Saleh’s response the next day was a vow to “confront a challenge with a challenge.” In a speech, he warned the opposition to “stop playing with fire.”

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