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A Saudi War-Crime in Yemen? Analysing the Dahyan Bombing

August 18, 2018

By Michael Cruickshank

At just after 8:20 in the morning on the 9th of August, a bomb dropped from a Saudi-led Coalition plane struck a busy market area in the center of Dahyan, in Saada Governorate, Yemen. The bomb impacted close to the middle of the main road through the town, causing massive civilians casualties. Tragically, most of these casualties came from a single bus carrying students aged as young as 6 on a religious field trip. Local health officials put the final death toll at 54, including 44 children. The death toll is backed up by significant amounts of video evidence showing the dead bodies of young children.   

The Strike:

Due to the large amount of video footage uploaded to social media in the aftermath of the airstrike, it is possible to locate the exact spot which the bomb impacted. This video posted by Mint Press News shows us the direct aftermath of the strike and the bomb crater [Warning: Extremely Graphic].

Figure 1: Geolocation of airstrike location.

The location of the strike was in a busy civilian area, less than 100m away from the main market area of the town. Additional CCTV footage published by Ansar Allah Media Center – a Houthi-aligned news network, allows us to gauge almost the exact time of the strike (08:21-24). This footage also shows the area hit included a road with busy traffic, something which would easily be visible to an aircraft circling above.

Figure 2: Distance between strike location and civilian market.

The Munition

Not long after the strike was reported by local media, activists began sharing pictures of bomb fragments which they claimed were found at the site. These fragments included many small pieces of shrapnel of indeterminate origin, however also included the front control fin of a GBU-12 Paveway II, a 500-pound laser-guided bomb, based off the Mark-82 general purpose bomb.

Figure 3: Bomb remnants allegedly retrieved from the site of the impact. (Source).

Figure 4: Close up of a control fin allegedly retrieved from the site of the impact. (Source).

Based on this image the following text is visible:

FOR USE ON MK 82

FIN, GUIDED BOMB
94271ASSY147214

The five-digit number ‘94271’ is known as a Commercial And Government Entity (CAGE) number and can be searched on an online database of items listed by the US Department of Defense’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA).

Figure 5: Product information based on CAGE number 94271 (Source)

As can be seen the fin in this image was manufactured for a GBU-12 Paveway-II guided bomb manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The US DSCA approved the sale of 4020 of these munitions to Saudi Arabia in 2015. The crater width and depth is broadly consistent with the low end of estimates provided by the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining for the Mk. 82 bomb.

Despite this, the photos of the bomb fragments were not taken in-situ, meaning that there is the chance this fin could have been placed amongst the other wreckage by groups trying to incriminate the United States. As such, these images do not provide conclusive evidence that a Lockheed Martin-built Paveway-II bomb was used.

The Target

Following the strike, Saudi-led coalition spokesman, Col. Turki al-Malki, said coalition forces had hit a “legitimate military target”, in response to a ballistic missile fired the day before into Saudi Arabia killing one. He went on to say that “All of the elements that were in the bus were targeted”, including “operators and planners”.

This statement that the bus was a legitimate military target can be disproved through video footage filmed from inside the bus prior to the strike. It shows many children cramped aboard a small bus, with few adults and no military personnel or armed men. The size of the bus in the video is consistent with photos of its wreckage taken after it was bombed.

The Saudi-led coalition later changed their tune, promising an investigation into the incident, stating that “a bus was subject to collateral damage”.

From satellite images of Dahyan, taken as recently as last month, there is no obvious Houthi military presence in the town. Ballistic missiles, however, have regularly been fired from Saada province into Saudi Arabia, and have lead to damage and deaths in Saudi Arabia. Regardless, the fact that the bus was targeted in the middle of a busy street close to a civilian market shows a remarkable level of disregard for civilian casualties.

Under the Rome Statute, “Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects” is criminalised. As such, the Dahyan bombing could be grounds for a war crimes investigation.

Michael Cruickshank

Michael Cruickshank is an Australian freelance conflict journalist currently based in Berlin, specialising in the OSINT, defense, the (mis)use of technology, and climate conflicts

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22 Comments

  1. Sean Lamb

    “Despite this, the photos of the bomb fragments were not taken in-situ, meaning that there is the chance this fin could have been placed amongst the other wreckage by groups trying to incriminate the United States. As such, these images do not provide conclusive evidence that a Lockheed Martin-built Paveway-II bomb was used.”

    Boy, I wish Bellingcat always showed this level of rigor and skepticism before assigning responsibility!!!

    There is a different quality of damage to the fin compared to the rest of the shrapnel which makes it look a little anomalous, but I expect that is probably explained that the rest of the metal was directly wrapped around the explosive.

    Reply
      • Armand

        Surprisingly enough, not from one place in particular.
        BAE and Lockheed Martin would only be two of them. We could easily speculate on Bulgarian or Southeastern European origin.
        Leaving the bigger question of how you would inhibit them from targeting the Houthis to begin with?

        Reply
  2. Kim

    Yep. Y’all keep believing the bs. So many of US citizens don’t believe in you or your BS. Do you not understand that the American ppl are done with listening to the bashing of Our own country! Get over it. He won and so many of us are forever grateful and proud President Trump is the MAN!

    Reply
    • Michael Cruickshank

      Please point out what exactly is ‘bs’ in this article, and I may be able to address your complaint.

      Reply
    • moist_towel

      Yeah because this is clearly an attack on Trump? As the link in the article clearly states, the sale of the bombs to saudi arabia was approved before before Nov 16, 2015 while Obama was in office.

      Reply
    • melissa capozziello

      Please don’t speak for all US citizens. Most of us our disgusted by the man.

      Reply
    • Kent

      You seem to be so naive! Do you think wars do not kill children? Are you living in fairytale land?

      And correction — most voters voted AGAINST your little cowardly Cadet Fake Bonespurs who hates POWs who fought for the freedoms he calls “the enemy” and for your right to write whatever you want which he calls “disgusting”.

      I suspect you call yourself a “christian”. A Jesus- free christian, like all trump idolators.

      You worship a rich man and your skin color above God.

      You worship a man who bragged about grabbing women’s vaginas saying they “let” him because he’s rich and famous and powerful — then are you shocked and saddeened when a pastor who leads a flock trump worshippers thinks and acts the same? YES.

      That’s why you kneel, bum in the air, to the most famous liar in history (now, whose inauguration crowd was bigger?) who bears false witness every day and brags about it (” I just made it up!”, a man who mocks the halt and the lame, who harasses the bereaved for not showing him gratitude, who scorns children ( I really don’t care, do you?), a man who brags he can kill and forgive himeself, no pardon from God needed, a man who commits adultery and boasts of it, a hypocrite whose own wife and her parents are what you’d call “chain migration” and speaks what you’d call”bad English” if it weren’t your new God’s cheated-on wife and hate when the immigrants are brown ( she was let in on a special visa to be a model — you think there are not enough beautiful American women to do that, obviously — self-loathing?),

      What you are is a “submissive”.
      Or what he’d call a good d*g.

      You wag your tail, you whimper, you bark, you follow commands, you tramble at the idea of the other d*gs turning on you if one day you became strong, human, and thought for yourself.

      Were you whipped as a child? What makes you so weak? What happened to you that you are so afraid to stick to your religious beliefs? Or you never really believed them?

      You submit to your idol, you protect, defend your idol, you make excuses for “hush money” ( and no, Kim, not all rich men pay “hush money” because not all are cheating liars and frauds, and no, not all rich men have more than 20 women accusing the men of doing just exactly what your New Jesus brags about.

      You repeat his lies and add your own, and when he lies, then denies his lie, then repeats the lie — you bend over, raise your hindquarters.

      Submissive.

      Kim, children are killed in wars. If that’s fine with you say so — that’s on you. Don’t blame your joy at seeing there dead bodies on trump.

      You could cure yourself, but you are too proud of your skin color and have smeared yourself with his stinking mess because you have to say, like him, that no one should strive to be better people -=- even Boy Scouts at their Jamborees must laugh at his lewd allusions to the dirty parties rich men have on their yachts, don’t even let them think they can strive for clean hearts and minds, that would make him “look bad” — you are so covered with his stink because you let him paint you to smell like him so he could pretend he’s no worse than you, but he is — or was before you rolled in his mess.

      You are a mess, Kim.

      You have lost your way. You worship anti-Jesus, anti-God, you idolize a piece of cloth and hate those Jesus commanded you to love.

      Or are you an atheist?

      If so, so am I.

      But I believe in morals and goodness and civility and truth.

      You are a submissive weak defeated human looking for someone to whip you until you say what they do is “good”.

      Reply
    • Dcp123

      There is no controveray or diapute over thw facts that the United States aupplies weapons to Saudia Arabia,Saudi Arabia uses those and othwr weapons in its war in Yemen, many thousands of civilians are being killed by Saudi strikes in that war, and that some of them are killed using weapons supplied from the United States.

      This article concludes that the weapon used in this strike was likely one supplied from the US and that the Studio strike was carried out in a way that showed a disregard for the near certainty of civilian casualties. Do you dispute either of those conclusions?

      It does not state with certainty that this bomb was applied from the US or that the US itself directly engaged in any war crimes. I’m failing to see any attack on the US. The basic facts that the US sells weapons to the Saudis and that those weapons are sometimes used by the Saudis in strikes that kill civilians are beyond dispute and are not actually disputed by the US government. What is the source of your outage? Or are you just someone paid by your government to stir dissent in every online discussion in this country?

      Reply
  3. Lorshas

    The video with the kids could have been filmed after the fact using a different group of children. Don’t see any backpacks in the video while many were featured in the news.

    Reply
  4. Jon K

    It’s weird how so many of the commentary sections around are hounded by trolls, dimwits and other characters who seem to be immune to the bigger picture. There has been an attack on a busy market. It probably involved a very large group of children (but if u insist on debating about their existence/age/etc, fine, let’s call them “people”), these people were not proven to store weapons in the bus – meaning, as he states in the article, according to international agreements and consensus, this attack was unlawful and, in my opinion, serves to terrorize people in the area/region. Does it really matter who won the god-damn election?
    Why are you debating whether or not there were backpacks on the bus (i know why you do it, i am just wondering how you really think that somehow proving the dead are not children will make this less of a crime)?
    I suggest we backtrack, acknowledge that we agree that this was a crime (we agree, right?) and spend our time on the internet being more fruitful in our quest for what actually happened.

    I will leave you with a small hint tho’: Saudi Arabia (a “friend”, and a very large weapons-importer, of the USA) is bombing Yemen (another country).

    Reply
  5. Tom

    The quote in the last sentence from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is only a partial quote and it completely changes the meaning of the statute. The whole section reads: Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such
    attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or
    damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe
    damage to the natural environment which would be clearly
    excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military
    advantage anticipated;
    Basically, the Rome Statute codifies the traditional rule of proportionality, that is, military force can’t be disproportionate to the military advantage. So, for example, it is not a crime to attack a military headquarters located in a civilian residential area even knowing some civilians will be killed if the military advantage is not clearly excessive to the overall military advantage obtained. And, if a party to a conflict stores ammunition in a civilian area, that ammo dump is a legitimate target even knowing civilians likely will be killed and civilian property destroyed if it is attacked as long as the damage to civilians is not disproportionate to the military advantage.
    Mr. Cruickshank should be more careful when he quotes a statute so that its full meaning is conveyed. It makes him look biased. Then again, maybe he is.

    Reply
    • Michael Cruickshank

      I am aware of the full length of the quote, however, could bombing a bus with the suspicion of “planners” in it, near a market, and in the middle of a busy street really be considered proportionate to the military advantage?

      Moreover, I did not say that this is definitely a war crime, I simply said that it could be grounds for an investigation, which I presume would seek to analyze this very question of proportionality.

      Reply
      • dcp123

        If they qere saure they had the right bus, the targeta on it were important enough, the were few people in the immediate area of the bus and the weapon were of a size proportionate to destroying the bus without causing casualties to civilians, at a dustance, I guess it might be proportionate, but that’s not what happened here.

        The problem with your quote isn’t that it falsely suggested that this particular attack violated the Rome Statute, which it almost certainly did. The problem is that the literal meaning of the words you selected to quote is that intentionslly launching a strike with the knowledge that it will cause civilian deaths or injuries is always illegal. The actual meaning of the full sentence is quite different and largely the opposite of that of your selective quote. Knowingly launching an attack with absolute certainty that it will cause civilian injuries and deaths is perfectly legal in war as long as that incidental harm it’s not “clearly excessive” in relation to the anticipated military advantage.

        To violate the provisions of this sentence you need to knowingly launchban attack with knowledge of the incidental civilian harm, the civilian harm that you knew of needs to be clearly excessive in relation to the military advantage, and the advantage that it needs to be excessive in relation to is the “anticipated” military advantage, not the actual military advantage.

        Assuming that the Saudis thouhht the bus was full of important military targets and that they didn’t know there were civilians on the bus the attacj, while probably repugnant to me and you, would not violate the standard you partially quoted unless the civilian harm that the Saudis knew would occur outside the bus was clearly excessive to the military advantage the Saudis anticipsted by killing tjose they thought were on the bus.

        I think the factual reporting in your article was excellent and that the way the Saudis are fighting this war with highly accurate weapons, but little effort to minimize civilian harm is repugnant. I also think a quote if the relevant terms of international law would have been nice. Unfortunately, the partial quote you gave of a rule prohibiting all attacks with knowledge of civilian harm is diametrically oopposed to the real rule that is actually weighted very much in favor of all but the most wanton murderers of civilians.

        Reply
        • dcp123

          To be clear, as Ibread it, under the tems of the full sentence, the harm to those on the bus would be largely irrelevant to the “clearly excessive” balance if that harm was not known to the attackers because they thought only military targets were on the bus and the fact that no obvious military goal was accomplished would be irrelevant as well if the Saudis anticipsted a significant military advantage by killing those that thought were on the bus.

          Reply
    • dcp123

      Thanks for making this important point. The sleeve white was obviously wrong and it’s use is a discredit to the excellent work that Bellingcat does.

      Most military strikes in populated areas cause injuries to civilians and all cause damage to civilian property. A rule that prohibited any attacks that caused such harm would be a prohibition on strikes on military targets in populated areas and would result in almost all military forces positioning themselves next to schools and other places of sense civilian population (as some armed groups and militaries already do).

      The actual rule that strikes not be deliberately made that will cause civilian harm disproportionate to the military objective, on the other hand is a sane and moral rule. If you have a high certainty that a high value target is in a certain place and use a weapon sized to minimize casualties to civilians who are not the target, the strike is legal. If you di something like dropping a 2000-pound bomb on an elementary school on the off chance that a military leader might be dropping off his kids, that’s a war crime and you may be Prince Mohamed bin Salman. If you deliberately target schools, hospitals, and markets with no reason to believe any military targets are present, then you’re a deeply repugnant war criminal and may be Bashar al Assad or Vladimir Putin.

      Reply
  6. Garcia

    I cannot believe that after such tragedy and with the public knowledge that Trump made a deal with Saudi Arabia, there are people here defending the man. I can’t believe they are forgetting that are over 40 children killed which is the point of the article. For the sociopaths/psychopaths (people that lack empathy) just go away and make your inane comments elsewhere. This is good and relevant journalism. Keep your absurd defense to yourself to the other fanatics that populate your world.

    Back to the article, unfortunately, those poor kids were just another number on a grotesque war they didn’t ask. Rest in peace angels

    Reply
  7. Steve Paesani

    Interesting that incidental civilian casualties are discussed and intentional strikes on civilians and infrastructure to starve civilians, which has been rhe actual censored case, are not.

    Reply
  8. Gunnar

    Weird thing, I was hoping someone had a good answer, do any of you know why the Live Map Yemen does not include Yemen? It is under UAE occupation at the moment so it seems a bit weird to not include it?

    Reply

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