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Drone Victim: U.S. Strikes Boost al-Qaida Recruitment

A young Yemeni whose village was targeted by a U.S. drone strike tells Salon about the experience, and its effects.

On April 17, a 23-year-old Yemeni activist and journalist named Farea Al-Muslimi  tweetedabout a U.S. drone strike on his village, Wessab, which he describes as “ the Yemen capital of misery with its beautiful mountains no one from outside remembers.” In the strike, five alleged members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were killed. The U.S. droned Yemen  53 times last year, tripling the number of attacks from 2011, and incurring a civilian casualty rate between 4 to 8.5 percent. On April 23, Al-Muslimi gave stirring testimony at the  first U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the legality of drone wars.

In the exclusive conversation below, Al-Muslimi tells Salon about the drone strikes’ devastating toll on Yemeni civilians and how the current U.S. counterterrorism policy in Yemen is like “reading from a manual ’10 Steps on How to Lose a War.’”

You testified at the first U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on drone wars describing the consequences of a drone strike on your village. What was the U.S. justification for the strike on Hammed Al-Radmi, a man from your village?

I don’t know (laughs). There is no justification for the U.S. in every case I’ve seen in Yemen where they’ve done a drone strike — either in my village or other villages. They say they need to use these [predator] planes, because otherwise they cannot capture these [targeted] people, but that is misleading and not true. This is why I came here – to ask what’s the justification? I don’t know. You should really direct this question to the U.S. government.

Even right now, the U.S. still hasn’t said why they killed Al-Radmi. And for many people in the area, including government officials, Al-Radmi was a social figure who was helping and solving many of the problems. He might have been accused of having ties with AQAP, but the U.S. didn’t capture him or question him. Basically, the U.S. just killed a very normal person who just three years ago was actually studying economics in Cuba, under the government of Castro, before returning to Yemen. And then the U.S. ordered a drone strike on him and they still don’t really know why. I don’t see the justification for using a strike, because [due to his visibility] it would have been easier to capture him than perhaps any other Yemeni in the capital.

In May of 2011, the U.S. government launched a drone strike meant for Anwar Al-Arshani. However, 24 civilians were also killed that day. Al-Arshani was alleged to be a member of al-Qaida, but many Yemenis say that allegation was uncorroborated. What’s your take?

This is a good, good question. Al-Arshani’s house was the first drone strike I ever visited. I interviewed most of the survivors. I visited them almost a month after the strike, and I still found a few pieces of his house. It is one of the places in Yemen where most civilians were killed ever [as a result of a drone strike]. Whether Al-Arshani was part of al-Qaida or not, the U.S. killed 24 innocent Yemenis. They could have been more efficient and accurate with their strike — at least if this policy was well thought out.

I interviewed a woman whose husband was killed in that strike. The day of the strike, he went to the souk to look for a job. He was a jobless man; he was working day by day. The woman was so happy, she said today her husband will find work and he’ll come home in the afternoon with food for their four kids. Unfortunately, she learned later that he was killed. It was one of the most tragic cases where a U.S. strike killed innocent civilians.

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