In recent months, villagers in Sabool, about 10 miles from Radda, said they have heard U.S. drones fly over the area as many as three or four times a day. Some described them as “little white planes.”
“It burns my blood every time I see or hear the airplanes,” said Ali Ali Ahmed Mukhbil, 40, a farmer. “All they have accomplished is destruction and fear among the people.”
On that September morning, his brother Masood stepped into the Toyota truck in Sabool. It was filled with villagers heading to Radda to sell khat, a leafy narcotic chewed by most Yemeni males. After they sold their produce, they headed back in the afternoon.
Nasser Ahmed Abdurabu Rubaih, a 26-year-old khat farmer, was working in the valley when he heard the explosions. He ran to the site and, like others, threw sand into the burning vehicle to douse the flames. As he sifted through the charred bodies on the road, he recognized his brother, Abdullah, from his clothes.
“I lost my mind,” Rubaih recalled.
Mukhbil’s brother Masood also was dead.
‘Trying to kill the case’
Some witnesses said that they saw three planes in the sky, two black and one white, and that the black ones were Yemeni jets. But both missiles struck the moving vehicle directly, and the terrain surrounding the truck was not scorched — hallmarks of a precision strike from a sophisticated American aircraft.
“If you say it wasn’t a U.S. drone, nobody will believe you,” said Abdel-Karim al-Iryani, a former Yemeni prime minister who is a senior adviser to Hadi. “A Yemeni pilot to be able to hit a specific vehicle that’s moving? Impossible.”
The Yemeni government publicly apologized for the attack and sent 101 guns to tribal leaders in the area as a symbolic gesture, which in Yemeni culture is an admission of guilt. But a government inquiry into the strike appears to be stalled, human rights activists and lawmakers said.
For the past three months, lawmakers have unsuccessfully demanded that senior government officials reveal who was responsible for the attack. Yemen’s defense and interior ministries, Hadi’s office, and the attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Washington played a crucial role in ousting Saleh and installing Hadi, a former defense minister. The United States also provides hundreds of millions of dollars to the military and security forces in counterterrorism assistance. U.S. officials regard Hadi as an even stauncher counterterrorism ally than Saleh.