Incident ID: HOD10006
Location: Zabid / زبيد, Zabid, al Hodeidah,
Coordinates: 14.196808, 43.321713
Incident Grading: Confirmed
Time: Approximately 1615 AST
- Multiple munitions likely hit a building on the eastern edge of Zabid at 14.196808, 43.321713. No damage to other areas of the city could be immediately identified.
- The damage evident in open sources indicates that this building was likely hit by an airstrike.
- Reports from various organisations also mention other areas that were allegedly hit in this strike. This report could not identify any other areas that had been hit in this strike other than the building at 14.196808, 43.321713.
During this process we used several different search engines to search for variations of “Zabid” in English and Arabic, sourced from GeoNames, which we combined with terms such as “bombing”, “airstrike” etc in both English and Arabic. We used date-specific searches on these search engines, as well as social media such as Twitter and Facebook, to identify material that could be useful to this investigation. A full list of sources can be found below this report.
Multiple sources state that this strike took place in the town of Zabid. The HRW report states that two locations were hit: a three story building in Shagia market and a lemon grove. Using satellite imagery, videos and images posted on social media we can identify the exact location of the strike as a building on the east side of Zabid. The location of the alleged strike on the lemon grove could not be identified.
Satellite imagery demonstrates that a building was partially destroyed at this location between 2015/03/12 and 2016/05/21. It appears that over half the building has been destroyed and removed.
What was the location being used for?
Satellite imagery and images and videos from the scene indicate this is a busy market area, with multiple stalls and shops in the immediate vicinity of the destroyed building. This is consistent with reports that an airstrike hit a market.
The exact use of the building itself is not immediately obvious from open source imagery, however the HRW report stated that it was being used as a sweet shop and restaurant. The location was also reported to be a restaurant by other sources, including the Yamanyoon news website, which named the building as the Shaja restaurant, and activists on Twitter and Youtube. A video which appears to have been taken inside the building under after the strike show details which indicate this may have been a communal building of some kind.
According to the HRW Report this strike took place on 2015/05/12. Multiple news sources and social media posts listed in the Discovery section also state this strike took place on 2015/05/12.
The HRW Report stated that this attack took place at about 1615 AST. A video titled “The city of Zabid moment of bombing” was posted on 2015-05-12 at 2054 AST. It can be geolocated to 14.192846, 43.323742, approximately 500 m south of the location of the attack. It depicts two discrete impact clouds which appear to originate from the direction of the destroyed building at 14.196808, 43.321713.
As the camera is placed on a road we can use the technique of intersection to identify where the cloud originated from. A line can be drawn through the location of the camera to the base of the cloud. This line also passes through the left edge of a partially completed building, which is also visible on satellite imagery. On that satellite imagery we can draw a line through from the position of the camera, through the left edge of the partially completed building to indicate where the base of the cloud is.
We can see that the base of the cloud is approximately 150 meters to the east of the building that was hit in this strike. This is consistent with the footage having been filmed several tens of seconds after the strike, as the video clearly shows the clouds being blown in an easterly direction.
When we take into account that this video was uploaded on 2015/05/12 and that no other strike is reported to have taken place at this location prior to 2015/03/12, we can say with confidence that this video almost certainly depicts this event, as is claimed in its title. We can therefore use this video to assess the likely time of this strike.
By observing the length and angle of the shadows of people within this video we can see that it is consistent with the HRW Report. At 1615 AST in this location, shadows were 1.75 times the length of the object they were generated by.
The image above shows a measurement taken from the SunCalc, a free tool designed to be used by photographers to calculate how the movement of the sun will affect their photos. Note that the purple box on the left highlights that at 1615 on 2015/05/12, an object of 1 meter in height would generate a shadow 1.75m in length. Therefore an object of any height would generate a shadow 1.75 times its height.
The above still from the video demonstrates a man’s shadow to be approximately 1.7 times the height of the man, making it roughly consistent with the HRW report. The man’s shadow is not completely at right angles to the angle at which the camera is filming, so it must be noted there is a measure inaccuracy within this calculation of approximately 15 minutes. At 1600 shadow lengths were 1.53 times the height of their object, while at 1630 shadow lengths were 2.04 times the height of their object. The calculation and graphic is certainly within these limits.
There are multiple reports that several munitions were dropped in this strike. The HRW report contains statements indicating that five munitions were dropped, three on the building next to the market and two on a lemon grove. One of the munitions which landed at the lemon grove allegedly did not explode. A munitions expert (Investigator No. 0304) stated that the destruction seen at the building next to the main road was consistent with an airstrike, possibly with more than one munition. No evidence could be identified showing damage to or near a lemon grove.
A report from Mwatana, a human rights organisation, stated that three bombs fell: one on a restaurant, one on a sweet shop, and one “next to the Qat market”. The third bomb allegedly did not explode. Considering the descriptions of the HRW report, the damage to the building and its proximity to the market, it is possible these three distinct locations mentioned by Mwatana are in fact the same place, or at least close enough to each other to be indistinguishable.
A video which appears to depict part of the strike itself shows two distinct clouds of dust, indicating that two explosions had taken place shortly before filming started. Judging by the shape of the cloud on the left-hand side, which has retained its mushroom-like shape, the camera began recording almost immediately after the explosion that likely caused it.
All reports agree that several munitions were dropped. In the Mwatana and HRW reports witness state that the later munitions caused casualties to those who ran to help after the first munition detonated. It is not known if first responders were the deliberate target of these later munitions.
It should be noted that due to clean-up efforts, the appearance of damage to the main building changed over time, especially in later news reports. The image below shows the building after the attack but while the majority of the structure was still in place.
None of the videos or photos of the aftermath depict anyone with a weapon or any obvious military personnel. Dozens of casualties are depicted in open sources, including both wounded and clear fatalities, many of whom have clearly suffered extreme physical trauma. These casualties appear to be almost entirely male, ranging from boys to old men. Although some reports mention that Houthi fighters were in the general area, no open source report explicitly states that any Houthis were killed in this attack. A witness quoted in the Mwatana report stated that a group of Houthis were in that location to buy Qat and sweets, but had left approximately 15 minutes before the strike.
The casualty count for this strike vary. A list of different claims and their sources are below:
In summary: Minimum reported fatalities - 20. Maximum reported fatalities - 60.
According to a report from Arab News, the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) assessed this strike and found:
“there were no air missions throughout the governorate of Alhudeidah on the day claimed May 12, 2015, nor on the previous or following days. In light of that, JIAT found that the Coalition Air Forces did not target Shajjea Market in Zabid town.”
Taking into account the information contained within this report, this statement by JIAT does not appear consistent with events depicted by open sources. There remains the possibility that this strike was carried out by a third party.
No direct official statement by the Houthi's was found.
There is no obvious impact crater visible in UGC or satellite imagery, only a destroyed building.
No clear remnants of any munitions are shown in media reports or UGC from the incident.
The nature of the damage caused by this incident, the clouds which appear to have been caused by it, and multiple witness reports strongly indicate that this was indeed an airstrike.
Open sources, including news reports, witness statements, NGO reports and videos and images from the event strongly indicate that on 2015/05/12 a building in Zabid, possibly a restaurant, was hit by multiple munitions, likely air-dropped. This building was on a busy street immediately next to a market. It is clear that this resulted in scores of casualties, and there is no indication from open source reports that any of these casualties were military personnel.