Al Qaeda committed ‘truly shocking’ human rights abuses including crucifixions and the beheading of an alleged sorceror during its 16 months in control of a southern region of Yemen, a report by Amnesty International claimed today.
The London-based charity has also released a video which appears to show a suspected thief having his hand amputated by the Ansar al-Sharia militia, which seized power of the Abyan governorate in February 2011.
Amnesty said dozens more civilians were then killed during reckless counter-insurgency operations by the Yemeni government as it sought to win back the territory from the Al Qaeda-affiliated group.
The tragedies would ‘haunt Yemen for decades to come’ unless the perpetrators were caught and the families compensated, the charity said.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said: ‘Abyan experienced a human rights catastrophe as Ansar al-Sharia and government forces vied for control of the region during 2011 and the first half of 2012.
‘The Yemeni authorities must ensure that a commission of inquiry announced in September covers the truly shocking abuses committed.
‘The tragedy of Abyan will haunt Yemen for decades to come unless those responsible are held to account and victims and their families receive reparations.’
Amnesty’s 55-page report, Conflict in Yemen: Abyan’s Darkest Hour, documents violations of the rules of war during the armed conflict between government forces and Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist armed group affiliated to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
It details horrific human rights abuses committed in the governorate of Abyan and other areas in the south of Yemen during the rule of the Islamist group between February 2011 and June 2012.
In addition, the report shows that the Yemeni government response to Ansar al-Sharia included indiscriminate attacks resulting in the unnecessary loss of civilian life, obstructing medical care and subjecting suspected fighters to enforced disappearance.
There are also reports that some of the air strikes documented in this report may have been carried out by U.S. drones, which appear to have been active during the conflict.
After it took control of most of Abyan during 2011-12, Amnesty says Ansar al-Sharia was responsible for widespread human rights abuses, including via its newly-established ‘religious courts’.
These frequently imposed cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments on alleged criminals, suspected spies, those accused of ‘sorcery’ and people who transgressed cultural norms, it added.
Punishments included summary killings – including at least one post-execution crucifixion – amputations and floggings.
In one case, 28-year-old Saleh Ahmed Saleh al-Jamli was found guilty by a religious court in the town of Ja’ar of planting electronic devices in two vehicles carrying Ansar al-Shari’a commanders.
The ruling obtained by Amnesty said the devices had enabled U.S. drones to kill commanders in Zinjibar and claimed Saleh al-Jamli ‘confessed’ to a judicial committee.
The court ruled that Saleh al-Jamli should be killed, and his remains crucified. Meanwhile, Ansar al-Shari’a amputated the hand of at least one person suspected of theft.
One of them was a young man Amnesty met whose left hand had been amputated in a public square in Ja’ar.
He was arrested along with two of his friends by members of the armed group and accused of stealing electric wires.
The friends were eventually released but the youth, a member of a marginalised community widely referred to as al-akhdam (servants), said that he was tortured for five days without access to a lawyer or his family, and then had his left hand amputated without attending a trial and without prior knowledge of the punishment.
Amnesty has been given a 90-second video appearing to show the amputation being carried out. Residents told Amnesty that the amputated hand was later suspended by a rope in the town’s market for all to see.
Ansar al-Sharia also sought to tighten its grip on power through threats, intimidation and the enforcement of a highly repressive social and religious code.
The rights of women and girls in particular came under attack and severe dress codes were imposed, as was a strict separation of the sexes and restrictions at work and in schools.
After Ansar al-Shari’a took over Abyan and extended its reach to other areas in the south, the Yemeni military launched several attacks to regain control, culminating in a major offensive on May 12 this year using air power and artillery.
By the end of June, government forces had succeeded in driving the group out of Abyan and surrounding areas.
In the process, Amnesty claims the Yemeni government forces used inappropriate battlefield weapons such as artillery in civilian residential areas.
Scores of civilians, including children, were killed and many more injured as a result of air strikes and artillery and mortar attacks by government forces.
Ansar al-Shari’a meanwhile used residential areas as bases, particularly in Ja’ ar, recklessly exposing civilian residents to harm.
The toxic mix of fighting and human rights abuses meant an estimated 250,000 people from Yemen’s southern governorates, particularly Abyan, were displaced.
While Ansar al-Shari’a were driven out of the cities and towns they controlled in June, there remains a danger the group will re-emerge and that the armed conflict will resume.
The report is based on the findings of an Amnesty fact-finding mission to Yemen in June-July 2012.