Politics

Yemen prison airstrike killed and injured over 100 detainees, says Red Cross

Key Points
  • A Saudi-led airstrike targeting a prison run by Yemen's Houthi rebels killed and wounded over 100 detainees on Friday, rescuers said, part of a pounding aerial offensive that hours earlier saw another airstrike take the Arab world's poorest country off the internet.
  • Basheer Omar, an International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson in Yemen, said rescuers continued to go through the prison site in the northern city of Saada, also controlled by the Houthis.
  • Doctors Without Borders in a separate statement put the number of wounded alone at "around 200" people.
  • The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis did not immediately acknowledge the strike in Saada.
Damage after an airstrike hit a temporary detention centre is seen in Saada, Yemen, January 21, 2022 in this still image obtained from a video. Video recorded with a drone.
Al Masirah TV | Reuters TV

A Saudi-led airstrike targeting a prison run by Yemen's Houthi rebels killed and wounded over 100 detainees on Friday, rescuers said, part of a pounding aerial offensive that hours earlier saw another airstrike take the Arab world's poorest country off the internet.

A strike in the port city of Hodeida, later confirmed by satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press, hit a telecommunication center there that's key to Yemen's connection to the internet. Airstrikes also hit near Sanaa, Yemen's capital held by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels since late 2014.

The intense campaign comes after the Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack that struck inside the capital of the United Arab Emirates earlier in the week.

Basheer Omar, an International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson in Yemen, gave the casualty figure to the AP. He said rescuers continued to go through the prison site in the northern city of Saada, also controlled by the Houthis.

"The toll is likely to increase, unfortunately," Omar said. The Red Cross had moved some of the wounded to facilities elsewhere, he said. There was no breakdown for how many were killed and how many were wounded.

Doctors Without Borders in a separate statement put the number of wounded alone at "around 200" people.

"From what I hear from my colleague in Saada, there are many bodies still at the scene of the airstrike, many missing people," Ahmed Mahat, the organization's head of mission in Yemen, said in a statement. "It is impossible to know how many people have been killed. It seems to have been a horrific act of violence."

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis did not immediately acknowledge the strike in Saada.

As for the airstrike in Hodeida that apparently took Yemen entirely offline, NetBlocks said the internet disruption began around 1 a.m. local and affected TeleYemen, the state-owned monopoly that controls internet access in the country. TeleYemen is now run by the Houthis who have held Yemen's capital, Sanaa, since late 2014.

Yemen faces "a nation-scale collapse of internet connectivity" after an airstrike on a telecommunications building, NetBlocks said.

The San Diego-based Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis and San Francisco-based internet firm CloudFlare also noted a nationwide outage affecting Yemen beginning around the same time.

Over 12 hours later, the internet remained down. The Norwegian Refugee Council decried the strike as "a blatant attack on civilian infrastructure that will also impact our aid delivery."

The Houthi's Al-Masirah satellite news channel said the strike on the telecommunications building had killed and wounded people. It released chaotic footage of people digging through rubble for a body as gunshots could be heard. Aid workers assisted bloodied survivors.

There was no immediate independent confirmation of how many people were hurt in the Hodeida attack.

The Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi rebels acknowledged carrying out "accurate airstrikes to destroy the capabilities of the militia" around Hodeida's port. It did not immediately acknowledge striking a telecommunication target as NetBlocks described, but instead called Hodeida a hub for piracy and Iranian arms smuggling to back the Houthis. Iran has denied arming the Houthis, though U.N. experts, independent analysts and Western nations point to evidence showing Tehran's link to the weapons.

The undersea FALCON cable carries internet into Yemen through the Hodeida port along the Red Sea for TeleYemen. The FALCON cable has another landing in Yemen's far eastern port of Ghaydah as well, but the majority of Yemen's population lives in its west along the Red Sea.

A cut to the FALCON cable in 2020 caused by a ship's anchor also caused widespread internet outages in Yemen. Land cables to Saudi Arabia have been cut since the start of Yemen's civil war, while connections to two other undersea cables have yet to be made amid the conflict, TeleYemen previously said.

The Saudi-led coalition entered Yemen's civil war in 2015 to try and restore to power the impoverished country's internationally recognized government, ousted by the Houthis the year before. The war has turned into the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with international criticism of Saudi airstrikes that have killed hundreds of civilians and targeted the country's infrastructure. The Houthis meanwhile have used child soldiers and indiscriminately laid landmines across the country. An estimated 110,000 people — combatants and also civilians — have been killed so far in the conflict.

The war reached into the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally, on Monday, when the Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack on Abu Dhabi, killing three people and wounding six. Although the UAE has largely withdrawn its forces from the conflict, it remains heavily involved in the war and supports local militias on the ground in Yemen.

On Thursday, the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was alarmed at the ongoing airstrikes in Sanaa, Hodeida and other locations in Yemen, as well as separate shelling attacks. The body's special envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, ended a visit to Riyadh on Thursday that was meant to discuss the spike in hostilities with Saudi and exiled Yemeni government officials.