An influential Saudi Arabian investigative body has said today that the Saudi-led coalition attacked a funeral in Yemen after receiving incorrect information that armed Houthi leaders were in the area.
The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen has come under severe criticism since last Saturday’s airstrike hit a funeral gathering for a Houthi minister in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, killing 140 people according to one UN estimate and 82 according to the Houthis.
Mourners killed in the mistaken attack that Saudi Arabia swiftly described as a “regrettable and painful” incident included top political and security officials.
“A party affiliated to the Yemeni command of the General Chief of Staff wrongly passed information that there was a gathering of armed Houthi leaders in a known location in Sana’a, and insisted that the location be targeted immediately,” the investigators concluded.
The Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), a body set-up by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz as a way to limit civilian casualties in Yemen, said in a statement that the coalition’s Air Operations Centre also failed to obtain approval for the strike from commanders, a violation of protocol.
The JIAT called for a review of the rules of engagement, and for compensation for the families of the victims. It also said “appropriate action” should be taken against those who caused the incident, without elaborating.
As the JIAT was established by the King himself, its recommendations are expected to be carried out swiftly.
After the strike, the White House announced an immediate review of Washington’s support for the 18-month-old military push against the Iran-backed Houthis, later saying the attack had killed senior figures who were important to negotiations between the warring parties.
Despite US support following the mistaken attack, the Houthis responded by launching missiles into Saudi Arabia near Islam’s holiest city of Mecca, and fired missiles on a US warship stationed off the Yemeni coast, prompting retaliatory strikes against what Washington said were Houthi radar sites.
The Houthis’ response has been denounced by many on social media, particularly as missiles they used to attack Saudi Arabia came dangerously close to striking Mecca.
The Houthis have been known to strike civilian targets using indiscriminate shelling and missile attacks, as well as cross-border raids into Saudi Arabia.
The JIAT statement said investigators were still assessing whether casualty counts were accurate as it believed that there were reports that the number of victims had been inflated by the Houthis, possibly in order to gain a media victory against Riyadh.