At least 42 Somali refugees were killed off the coast of Yemen late Thursday when their boat was reportedly hit by airstrike from a mysterious Apache helicopter.
Coastguard Mohamed al-Alay reported that the refugees, carrying official UN refugee agency documents, were travelling from Yemen to Sudan when they came under attack at about 3am near the Bab el-Mandeb strait.
A senior official with the UN’s migration agency confirmed that 42 bodies had been recovered after the attack. Mohammed Abdiker, emergencies director at the International Organization for Migration in Geneva, said that survivors provided conflicting statements about whether the attack originated from a military vessel or an attack helicopter that had taken off from the vessel.
Abdiker called the attack “totally unacceptable” and asserted that responsible combatants should have confirmed the identity of the passengers on the boat “before firing on it.”
According to the Associated Press, Al-Hassan Ghaleb Mohammed, a Yemeni people trafficker who survived the attack said the vessel had been hit by fire from a helicopter gunship when the boat was about 30 miles off the shore of Yemen.
Mohammed reported that panic erupted among the refugees when their boat was fired upon, but they scrambled to hold up flashlights to prove to the attackers that they were migrants. The helicopter then ceased firing but more than 40 Somalis had already been killed.
Despite witness reports of the incident, an IOM spokesman in Geneva said he could not confirm news reports that an Apache had been responsible for the attack, but added, “Our confirmation is that there are dozens of deaths and many dozens of survivors brought to hospitals.”
The Saba agency, a rebel-controlled organization, reported that the migrants had been attacked from the air by the Saudi-led coalition battling the insurgents.
Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition in the war in Yemen, and utilizes US-built Apache A-64 Longbow attack helicopters.
Major General Ahmed Assiri, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, rejected the accusation claiming that the force had not been engaged in fighting in Hodeida.
“There has been no firing by the coalition in this zone,” he said.
Saudi Arabia’s Al-Madinah class frigates are capable of carrying a single helicopter. Other naval forces operating nearby, including the United States military, are also equipped with helicopters.
Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump, denied US involvement, asserting that the US had not conducted any strikes in Yemen during the past 24 hours.
H/T: The Guardian
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