Incident ID: HAJ10006
Location: al-Khamis Market, Mastaba district, Hajjah governorate
Coordinates: 16.22767, 43.24497
Incident Grading: Confirmed
Time: Shortly before 1133 AST
- It was possible to identify the location of the attack on al-Khamis marketplace using open sources, including video and pictures captured in the aftermath of the bombings, as well as satellite imagery taken before and after. We confirmed that the areas struck was likely used as a market, and that people who do not appear to have been military personnel, including children, were clearly present and among the dead.
- Open source video and imagery captured post-attack shows one clear impact crater, and further damage strongly suggests a second. This assessment — that the Saudi-led Coalition carried out an airstrike where two munitions were dropped in a crowded commercial area — matches investigations carried out by the UN, HRW and ITV after visiting the site of the attack in the days and weeks after. The Coalition itself has admitted to carrying out the bombing, though it claims the strikes were lawful.
- A UN-appointed Group of Eminent Experts, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as Human Rights Watch all agree that the strikes took place on 2016/03/15 at around midday. Witness statements taken by these entities corroborate the open source visual evidence, highlighting one of the deadliest attacks during the Saudi-led Coalition air campaign.
Searches were conducted using English and Arabic variations of “al-Khamis,” “Mastaba,” “Hajjah,” as well as descriptive keywords such as “airstrike,” and “bombing.” A list of sources can be viewed below this report.
This attack took place on the Al-Khamis (“Thursday”) market in Mastaba district of Yemen’s Hajjah province. This market is located some 45km south of the border with Saudi Arabia, and 15km northwest of the provincial capital of Hajjah. Mastaba village is situated the R 2311 road, which branches off eastward from a larger road (Route 5) running from the Saudi border, south to Harad and Abs.
The area where the strike took place was, and remains, under Houthi control. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), on 2015/08/03 a bomb landed up the road from the market area, “next to a small shop from a hut being used by the Houthis as a checkpoint along the road into Mastaba village.” The munition did not explode, but Coalition strikes have targeted the area on numerous occasions since the Saudi-led intervention began in March 2015. According the Yemen Data Project, at least 124 airstrikes have been counted in Mastaba district alone, many hitting civilian sites. An ITV film crew that travelled to Mastaba town after the market strike likewise remarked on the amount of damage from strikes visible from roadways.
Multiple sources, including the UN, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) place the attack in Mastaba. Additionally, it is possible to identify the location of the attacks by matching footage taken in its aftermath and satellite imagery recorded before and after the incident.
Satellite imagery accessed via Google Earth shows the town and market a few days before the attack. A large number of stalls and cars clearly indicate many people are present at this location.
Satellite image taken on 2016/03/03. Note that North is to the left: this image has been orientated to match the angle of relevant footage and photographs. (courtesy of Google/CNES/Airbus)
The collection of blue structures to the east of the road appear to be temporary structures, which may be the origin of the name of the market: al-Khamis or “Thursday”. However, in available satellite imagery for other days of the week there still appears to be activity in the place which appears to have suffered the heaviest damage next to the road.
The image below is a composite panorama built of stills from the Ansar Allah video, which shows the aftermath of the strike. The cameraman is on or close to the road, and facing two buildings. To the right, the road (2311) continues to the southwest. According to an HRW report, the building identified in green housed shops on the ground floor and a restaurant on the first.
Note also the covered market area, which was heavily damaged in the attack, and is highlighted in blue. This structure appears in satellite images dating back at least to 2011, and was not a temporary presence in the town.
Both of these buildings can be located in satellite imagery taken shortly before the attack. Above, a satellite image from 2016/03/03 from Google Earth shows the white awning of the first building. Satellite imagery consistently shows that the structure marked in red casts a longer shadow than the building marked in blue. This matches the taller height of the building marked in red shown in video and photos taken on the ground.
Later in March, a crew from the British ITV channel filmed the same structures.
The upward force of the first airstrike can be seen in the destroyed ground floor canopy (marked in green) and the bent corrugated metal roofing (marked in black) on the roof. The principal structure of the building, however, appears to have remained largely intact.
In the 2016/03/03 Google Earth image, the canopy and the roof of this building appear to be one single object, but earlier satellite images clearly illustrate they are separate, and the white metal roofing is higher, casting a shadow at times. For instance, this image was taken 4 June 2011:
Impact point 1
One impact point was captured in multiple videos. Here, the Ansar Allah footage shows several structures in the background, which can be matched to footage taken on 2016/03/28 by Human Rights Watch investigators. The remaining structure of what was a covered market area is highlighted in blue.
The same structures, as well as additional ones, can be seen more clearly in footage posted by Human Rights Watch. The structures highlighted in orange below are seen smouldering in parts in the Ansar Allah video, indicating it was taken shortly after the strike.
Another photograph taken after the strike and posted on Twitter by the user “Eyes on Yemen” shows the remains of the covered market from the other side, looking through to the previously identified structure, housing shops and a restaurant, next to first impact crater.
From these images, we can identify that a large crater is clearly visible next to the building HRW identified as containing shops and a restaurant.
Impact point 2
According to multiple reports, a second munition hit minutes later, on the opposite side of the covered stalls. According to Human Rights Watch, the second munition exploded five minutes after the first, and hit “near the entrance to the market, approximated 12 meters north of a covered area containing several market stalls.”
Photographic and video evidence of the exact impact location of this alleged strike, however, is limited. Although there is significant destruction in this area there are no images or videos of a clearly defined crater. A member of the ITV crew that visited the site around the same time recalled the presence of earth moving equipment, which may have covered up the second impact crater. Earth moving equipment is certainly visible in the NewsYemenTV 2 video. Craters are likewise not visible from satellite photos taken after the strike that we were able to review.
HRW graphic of the locations of munition detonations, which is roughly consistent with the crater we identified, as well as other damage at this location
It should be noted that the UN’s human rights office sent a team to al-Khamis the day after the attack, and reported “two airstrikes on the al Khamees” market, consistent with all other reports reviewed by us.
All accounts agree this strike took place on 2016/03/15.
The attack allegedly took place around midday. MSF reported that two strikes hit the market “at midday.” HRW reported that the two strikes took place “around noon.” The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner reported that two strikes took place “during peak hours.”
Videos taken in the aftermath do not show long shadows structures. This indicates that the videos, which appear to have been taken soon after the strike, took place with the sun more or less directly overhead.
The below Tweet from Al Masirah about this bombing was made at 0933 BST (the timestamp of the Tweet depends on the settings of the person viewing it), meaning it was posted at 1133 AST, half an hour before midday. This indicates that the strike took place sometime before 1133 AST, at least half-an-hour earlier than most reports.
Tweet from Al Masirah the mentions al-Khamis market having been attacked, made at 1133 AST
The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that “a total of 16 shops were destroyed.” The market, it said, was “the primary shopping area for some 15 surrounding villages,” and occurred “during the afternoon rush hour when the market was particularly crowded.”. Video taken in the aftermath, including the Ansar Allah footage, shows widespread destruction. Bodies, including those of a number of children, lie in the wreckage of what appear to have been locations engaged in commercial activity.
Photographs taken a day after the attack and posted online by HRW show fruits and vegetables, including what appear to be Potatoes and Oranges, strewn across the blast area. Crates that may have been used to carry them are also found in these images. According to the UN’s human rights office, which sent at team to Mastaba the day after the attack, “a total of 16 shops were destroyed.”
The Ansar Allah footage shows similar scenes, with stalls and produce strewn around the area:
It is very clear in the images and videos associated with this incident that a large number of people were killed. In the footage taken in the immediate aftermath, where buildings are still smouldering, large portions of dismembered bodies evident. It is also clear from this footage that at least some of the casualties were children.
The level of destruction makes it difficult to identify if any of the casualties could be fighters. Individuals in clear military uniform do not appear in footage taken at the scene, either among those dead or wounded, or those who are recovering. The Ansar Allah video has, not unusually, been edited, but it does not, for example, capture a second crater, or in this case, anyone clearly identified as a Houthi fighter. In an image from the scene posted by HRW an ammunition belt can be seen next to one of the casualties.
Image taken by HRW as part of an investigation into this incident. Note the ammunition belt in the bottom left of the image
Several sources do note the presence of the Houthi fighters in the area: the UN’s human rights office reported that:
“several witnesses interviewed by OHCHR hours after the attack stated that, at the time of the attack, there was a military checkpoint manned by four to six officers from the police and members of the Popular Committees about 250 metres from the market. The witnesses also stated that no warning had been given to the civilians in the area prior to the attacks.”
HRW likewise noted:
“A witness who helped retrieve bodies said that he saw the bodies of about 10 Houthi fighters, whom he knew previously, among those killed. He said that some armed Houthi fighters regularly ate and slept in a restaurant about 60 meters from where one bomb detonated. The restaurant was not damaged. He said some residents objected to the Houthis’ presence but were powerless to remove them. Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm these claims with other witnesses. The only Houthi military presence identified by Human Rights Watch during its visit was a checkpoint manned by two or three fighters about 250 meters north of the market.”
We identified two locations which may be checkpoints of some kind, one to the north-west and one to the south-east of this market. Both were almost exactly 450 meters from Impact Point 1.
Footage taken after the strike shows an array of vehicles, which do not appear to be military, in the vicinity of the blast, this appears consistent with satellite imagery from 2016/03/03, which shows a number of vehicles parked in the vicinity of Impact Point 1
On 2016/03/18, after sending investigators to the site, OHCHR reported: “There were 24 children among the 106 reported dead so far. UN staff recorded the names of 96 of the victims, although a further 10 bodies were burned beyond recognition. More than 40 other people were reported to have been injured during the attack.” OHCHR later found that “107 civilians, including 25 children, were killed and 37 civilians, including 4 children and 1 woman, were injured.
The UN-appointed Group of Eminent Experts found that the attack “killed more than 100 civilians, including 25 children.”
Mwatana reported that at least 131 civilians were killed, among them 23 children. The NGO found that at least 84 civilians were also injured.
MSF, citing local sources, say “Khamis was full of people who had gathered for the weekly market day. Dozens of civilians were present at the time of the airstrike, including women, children and the elderly, and many were injured or killed in the attack.” Note that this statement was released on 2016/03/16, a day after the attack.
The Yemen Data Project put the death toll at 100, with 25 additional injuries.
Taking these statements into account, the number of fatalities from this strike ranges from 100 to 131. Considering the high level of destruction seen in videos of the scene, these numbers appears to be consistent with open sources.
Human Rights Watch claimed to have retrieved the remnants of a “strake” which is “part of a US-supplied JDAM satellite-guided bomb,” , which includes “a US-supplied MK-84 2,000-pound bomb mated with a JDAM satellite kit, also US-supplied.”
A crew of ITV journalists also encountered “remnants of an MK-84 bomb paired with a Paveway laser guidance kit.”. This munition is different from a JDAM. Photographs taken by HRW do appear to show part of the wing assembly of some kind of GBU, part of the Paveway family.
On 2016/03/18, Reuters reported that Coalition spokesperson forwarded “a graphic prepared by [Yemeni President] Hadi’s government that said the target of the air strike was a military area where Houthi forces had gathered and that ‘they deceived people by saying it was a market.’”
This statement appears to be contradicted by open source information, which clearly indicates that this was a market.
On 2016/08/04, the JIAT stated:
“The UN News Center claimed that the coalition forces have bombed the market of (Khamis Mastaba), in the District of Hajjah on 15.3.2016 and the allegation of causing the death of some 106 civilians. We want to make clear, that it has been bombed as a target, based on solid intelligence asserting that a large gathering of Houthi armed militia (recruits), and that the gatherings were near a weekly market, which does not have any activity except on Thursdays of each week, knowing that the operation has taken place on Tuesday, as it was a legitimate military target and has a high value and achieve military advantage of being just 34 km from the border with Saudi Arabia, a fact that threatens troops stationed on the border. Moreover, the prosecution did not provide proof of the claims that civilian casualties, and the JIAT found no proof of any fault made by the coalition forces, in the process, and that the Coalition forces have abided by the rules of international humanitarian law."
JIAT also made a statement which was recorded on video. They claim that the market was not affected before or after the strike, including the graphic below.
This red box encompasses the area which, as we have identified over this article, suffered extreme damage after a direct hit by an airstrike.
It therefore appears that the JIAT statements appear to be contradicted by open source information. Judging from the goods and stalls scattered around the vicinity, there appears to have been commercial activity taking place at the time of the strike. The reports of large numbers of children having been killed also appears at odds with this statement.
No official statement by the Houthi’s on this attack could be identified.
Mwatana reported that they could not corroborate the SLC’s claim that a gathering of the Houthis was at the strike location. “The interviews Mwatana conducted did not point to any militant gathering or military targets in the area.”
HRW were similarly critical of the JIAT’s findings. In a letter to the investigative body, HRW wrote “While the strike may have also killed about 10 Houthi fighters and a Houthi military checkpoint manned by two or three fighters was located about 250 meters north of the market, the strikes caused indiscriminate or foreseeably disproportionate loss of civilian life, in violation of the laws of war.”
The UN Group of Eminent Experts noted, of the JIAT’s findings: “As so few details are contained in JIAT summaries, it is impossible to ascertain how, once a military objective has been identified, proportionality assessments were carried out and what precautions in attack were implemented. Nor is it possible to ascertain whether JIAT has carried out its own independent assessments on how those procedures were carried out in individual cases. The response to the attack on Khamees market 15 March 2016 is emblematic as the JIAT findings contradict earlier coalition claims and appear to suggest that because the market struck was named “Thursday market”, the coalition could not have anticipated that civilians would be present on a Tuesday.”
According to multiple accounts and eyewitnesses, during this strike two munitions were dropped separated by a period of time. Several reports and eyewitness statements indicate that the second munition injured and killed people responding to the explosion of the first munition.
Human Rights Watch spoke with a man injured in the attack, who recounted:
“When the first strike came, the world was full of blood. People were all in pieces, their limbs were everywhere. People went flying. Most of the people, we collected in pieces, we had to put them in plastic bags. A leg, an arm, a head. There wasn’t more than five minutes between the first and second strike. The second strike was there, at the entrance to the market. People were taking the injured out, and it hit the wounded and killed them. A plane was circling overhead.”
All accounts reviewed by us indicated the attacks were airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition. The SLC itself acknowledged the attack.
Open source information indicates that on 2016/03/15, sometime before 1133 AST, two air-dropped munitions hit al-Khamis market. Between 100 to 131 people were killed. Both witness reports and open source images and videos show that at least some of those killed and wounded were children. There were reports of Houthi fighters being in the area at the time, including reports of a checkpoint to the north of al-Khamis, which may be visible on satellite imagery. At least one fragment of a munition allegedly recovered from the scene appears to be part of the wing assembly from a GBU. HRW claims another fragment is from a JDAM. Statements from the SLC do not appear to be consistent with information acquired via open sources.
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