Incident ID: SAN10004
Location: Military Police compound, Sana’a City
Coordinates: 15.374367, 44.218729
Incident Grading: Confirmed
Date: 2017-12-12 or 2017-12-13
Time (AST): Around midnight AST 12-13 December
- The location of the alleged strike was identified as a Military Police compound located at 15.374367, 44.218729. Open sources indicated that this location was being used to hold detainees of some kind.
- This facility has been targeted multiple times. By comparing satellite imagery, media reports, and user-generated content (UGC), discrete damage and crates caused by the airstrike on 2017-12-13 was identified.
- Contextual evidence and witness accounts, as well as analysis of craters, indicate that this was an airstrike. The analysis confirms claims that multiple munitions were dropped during this airstrike.
Searches were carried out using English and Arabic variations of the name “Sana’a” and words such as “military”, “prison”, “camp”. These search terms were run through Google, with searches for specific sites of relevance, such as YouTube and the Saudi Press Agency. The search terms were also used in Tweetdeck. In both cases, the results were timebound to focus on the days immediately following the alleged date of the strike: 2017-12-13. A full list of results from these searches can be found below this report.
Example search string: site:https://www.spa.gov.sa صنعاء معسكر شرطة عسكريا
Military Police Base
The location for the airstrike on 2017-12-13 was identified as the complex at coordinates 15.374367, 44.218729. Damaged buildings, as well as craters, are evident within this complex.
The building seen at 00:17 of the Anadolu Agency video matches other user-generated content (UGC) of the strike and satellite imagery of this location. In satellite imagery from before the strike, we can see that the T-shape on the face of the building, as well as the number of windows, is the same as in the Anadolu Agency video:
The building seen at 00:18 of the CCTV video with a crater in front of it can also be identified as being from this location. The crater, the shorter building to the north, and the red storage container are all visible in satellite imagery from 2018-01-01:
Other UGC can also be geolocated to this location.
A large number of images and videos of this location taken after the strike can also be found in the AFP Forum.
Sentinel Hub imagery also indicates that this location was hit during the period 12-13 December. On 2017-12-12 the small construction on the roof of the T-shape-faced building is clearly visible on 2017-12-12, yet is gone on 2017-12-17.
Both the Anadolu Agency footage and footage available on the AFP Forum of this building posted on 2017-12-13 clearly show the T-shape-faced building has suffered significant structural damage, including to its roof.
Given the information above, including UGC, footage from various sources including AFP, Anadolu Agency and CCTV, reports from the BBC, CNN and Reuters depicting this location and satellite imagery indicating this location was damaged between 12-13 December 2017, we can say with a high level of confidence that this is the location referred to concerning reports of a prison in Sana’a being hit on 12-13 December 2017. As demonstrated below, statements from witnesses, news reports and other open sources strongly support this location being a detention facility of some kind.
Some of the footage circulating on social media has been misattributed to this airstrike. An initial analysis of a CCTV video report suggested that the alleged airstrike took place at the complex located at coordinates 15.349223, 44.200292.
This image embedded in Google Earth also matches to a still from a CCTV video which claimed to show the scene of the incident. This gate is to the northeast of the facility, at the coordinates 15.350709, 44.201983:
Other damaged buildings seen in the CCTV video can be identified as being at this location:
However, it became evident that this location is in fact the Presidential Palace and not a prison. Sentinel Hub satellite imagery also indicates this location underwent significant structural change, likely caused by an airstrike, on or before 2017-12-07, therefore outside the period of time we were interested in.
What was the location being used for?
The location was allegedly being used as a Houthi military detention facility. Some reports suggest that the detainees were military personnel of the Hadi government. According to this CNN report, the Yemeni government had given the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the site's location and informed the organization that detainees were being held there. According to this Twitter thread, the casualties of the strike were mostly detainees.
In an interview at 00:50 in the CCTV video, translated by CCTV, the interviewee states that “three missiles targeted buildings that house captives in custody”. At 01:32 the same interviewee states “it seems that dozens were detained in the basement” implying those detained were detainees.
These claims appear to be supported by open sources. This location has been marked as “Military Police (Municipality of the capital)” on Wikimapia, a crowd-sourced mapping platform for approximately 10 years.
In footage from the Aljazeera video, a gate is shown which appears to be the northern entrance of this complex at 15.375772, 44.219004. The sign above the gate states that the location is indeed affiliated with the Military Police:
The Republic of Yemen
Ministry of Defence
The General Staff
Leadership of the Military Police
Images and videos from multiple sources taken inside one of the buildings show a metal door which is consistent with that used by a detention facility, including a small service hatch in the center. The door appears to have been separated from its hinges and is lying on the floor.
This door can be seen in footage used by Aljazeera & CCTV, as well as in an image taken by AFP. Although the location of the second image is not explicitly stated in the source it was taken from, the same image can be located on the AFP Forum, which states “Yemeni Huthis carry the body of a man killed by air strikes at a detention centre in the capital Sanaa on December 13, 2017”.
Given this information, including reports from activists, media outlets and other open sources, we can be confident that this complex was a military base associated with the Military Police. It also appears likely that this location was being used to house detainees. Although their precise status could not be determined beyond doubt, given the nature of this location it seems possible that they were Prisoners of War, as various sources reported.
Was there military activity in the area?
The location was allegedly being used by military police to hold detasinees. In interviews and footage from the scene, there are clearly armed militants present. As noted earlier, this location appears to have been a military complex and it is therefore unsurprising that soldiers are present.
All sources agree that the strike occurred on the night of 12 - 13 December 2017.
At 00:25 in the CCTV video, an interviewee labeled as “Hamid Mohammed - witness” claims that the first munition was dropped around 0020 AST. In this AFP video an interviewee labeled as “Ahmed Abdullah - Security Guard” also states that the bombing started at around 0020 AST. It should be noted that Ahmed Abdullah can be seen in the background of the interview with Hamid Mohammed.
The earliest photos of the attack to be posted on social media and in traditional media are dark, which would support such an early time. This video claims to be footage of the strike, and it is captured at night. Some media reports describe the strike as having happened on Tuesday night, while others say Wednesday, which would also indicate the strikes took place around midnight in Yemen. Tweets from a Yemeni journalist also claim that the attack started around midnight.
The earliest social media post we found claiming that there was bombing in Sana’a was made at 2345 AST by a user named Jalal El Sayyad who claims to be based in Taiz. His post suggests that he is not actually based in Sana’a and is either hearing the bombardment from a distance, or has heard reports of a bombardment happening. This post does not mention the Military Police.
The earliest social media post we found that explicitly mentioned a Military Police base being bombed was made on Facebook at 0004 AST by the account @shfinews, which claims to be based in Sana’a. A short time after this, at 0013 the Ansar Allah Media Center tweeted that the airstrikes had affected the Military Police.
News reports, social media posts and interviews all indicate that the Military Police base was struck on the night of 12 - 13 December. Social media posts and interviews indicate that the attacks took place at or shortly after midnight.
Identification of damage caused to the Military Police base is complicated by the presence of damage from previous raids. We compared Google Earth imagery from 2017-11-18 and 2018-01-01 and noted historic damage and damage that was likely caused by this strike. In the image below we have identified areas which had been damaged in previous events in blue and locations which we believed suffered damage as a result of this strike in yellow.
We identified five locations which appeared to have suffered damage as a result of this strike. Four of these five locations were depicted in images and videos taken after the strike. Given this, and other information below, it appears that at least five, likely six and possibly seven munitions were dropped during this strike.
Location 1: 15.373378, 44.218841
The munition that caused this strike appears to have landed immediately next to a small hut of some kind. Due to satellite imagery we can be sure that this crater was caused after 2017-11-18. However, this location does not appear to feature in any images or videos after this strike and so it is difficult to be sure if this damage was caused by this strike. Using the measurement tool on Google Earth Pro we identified that this crater is approximately 10 meters in diameter.
Location 2: 15.374573, 44.220050
Location 2 does feature in images and videos of this event, most clearly in the CCTV video.
The exact damage to Location 2 is difficult to assess due to previous damage at this location, however it is clear that the exterior wall and an interior wall have suffered damage between 2017-11-18 and 2018-01-01. There may also be a crater at this location with a diameter of approximately five meters.
The Al Masirah day time video shows Red Crescent workers extracting what appear to be body parts from this location. It should be noted that although Al Masirah have blurred the body part, it appears to be the remains of a leg, as a foot can be seen.
Location 3: 15.375039, 44.219344
Location 3 clearly features in images and video after the strike. From those images it appears that people were killed or wounded at this location. Using the measurement tool on Google Earth Pro we can establish that the crater at this location has a diameter of approximately 5 meters.
In several images of this location we can see bodies being collected and pools of blood.
Location 4: 15.375583, 44.218077
The majority of the images and videos of this incident show Location 4. This building appears to have been the focus of the attack and is the only building that appears to have suffered significant structural damage during this event.
This building appears to have suffered significant damage to different aspects. The image above shows that the northern aspect has been struck, and the images below show that the east side has also been hit. The images also suggest that the basement of this building may have also been affected by this strike
The damage to both the south and east aspect of Location 4 indicate that it was likely hit by more than one munition. Given reports that detainees were trapped in a basement, this building appears to be the most likely location. This also appears to be the most likely location for images and videos showing the interior of a building,
Location 5: 15.375179, 44.217690
Location 5 is also clearly depicted in videos and images of this incident. At this location there is a crater with a diameter of approximately 10 meters. There appears to be superficial damage to a building immediately to the west of this crater.
Multiple reports, including from media outlets, activists and interviewees (see: Discovery), consistently indicate that a large number of the casualties were detainees or Prisoners of War who were held at this location. This Reuters report, for example, puts the number as 180. These reports appear to be supported by the conclusion that this location was a Military Police base, as well as images showing a door consistent with a detention facility.
Images and videos which allegedly show the casualties do not show any obvious indications that they were detainees, such as uniforms or restraints. However, if should be noted that this appears to have been a military detention facility, and so may not have had a uniform for detainees. It is also likely that a number of the casualties were guards from the detention facility.
What kind of vehicles are present in the image and/or videos?
The vehicles present in UGC are all smaller cars and SUVs. We also see red crescent vehicles present at the site in the aftermath of the strike.
It should be noted that the Discovery section contains many videos with interviews, which have not currently been translated in full.
The casualty count for this strike varies and several reports also claim that missing detainees may be buried under the rubble:
Reuters: 39 fatalities, 90 wounded
Hussain Albukhaiti, a Yemeni activist: 35 fatalities, 32 wounded, 45 missing
CNN: 35 fatalities, 20 missing
Euronews Arabic: 35 fatalities
BBC: “at least 30 dead” reported by camp official
The New Arab: 12 fatalities, 80 wounded (as reported by Al Masirah TV)
Neither JIAT nor representatives of the SLC appear to have made statements on this strike. Several Houthi officials and militants are interviewed in UGC and media covering the incident, but no official statements were released.
According to this Twitter thread, the National Committee for POWs Affairs made a statement that the targeting of prisoners in the camp came after several visits by the Red Cross and other international human rights organizations, and that it was made clear that this facility was being used to hold prisoners.
See section: What Damage Was Done?
No clear remnants of any munitions are shown in media reports or UGC from the incident.
Several eyewitness accounts point to multiple airstrikes. In this interview, the person claims that there were seven total.
CNN: “‘After the first airstrike, prisoners were running for their lives, some climbing over walls to escape when another airstrike killed them as well,’ a senior Houthi national security official said.”
BBC: “One of the guards at the camp's prison, Mohammed al-Aqel, told AFP news agency that it was hit at least five times, and that several buildings and a perimeter wall were heavily damaged.”
Reuters: “One official in the camp said the coalition aircraft had launched seven raids on the camp, located in the eastern part of Sanaa, where some 180 prisoners were being held.”
Our analysis of the craters as well as the extent of the damage supports claims of multiple munitions being dropped. We believe at least five munitions were used, and possibly as many as seven,
The contextual information, evidence of craters, and eyewitness statements describing planes flying overhead and “dropping missiles” confirm that this was an airstrike.
A large amount of open source information is available for this strike. It is clear from this information that on the night of 12-13 December 2017, at around midnight or shortly after, a strike took place targeting a Military Police compound in Sana’a. Images and videos associated with this strike do indicate this location may have been used to house detainees. Multiple munitions were dropped, resulting in damage to several locations within this compound. Reports and interviews from the next day suggest that a large number of the casualties were detainees.
International and Local Media:
Euronews Arabic report
The Hindu (Reuters reprint)
Irish Times (Reuters reprint)
Middle East Eye (Reuters reprint)
Financial Tribune report
AFP images and videos
Getty image gallery
Pars Today video
Al Masirah night time video
Al Masirah day time video
Social Media (sorted by upload date and time):
2017-12-12 2345 AST https://www.facebook.com/galal.alsyad/posts/939888986158540
2017-12-13 0004 AST https://www.facebook.com/shfinews/posts/1734527866577462?__tn__=-R
2017-12-13 0013 AST https://twitter.com/AnsarAllahMC/status/940706171635122176
2017-12-13 0957 AST https://twitter.com/A7medJa7af/status/940853239636987904
2017-12-13 0958 AST https://twitter.com/taizynews/status/940853486538936326
2017-12-13 1408 AST https://twitter.com/wawd211/status/940916236237660160
2017-12-13 1635 AST https://twitter.com/Akram_ALahdal2/status/940953279642652673
2017-12-13 1804 AST https://twitter.com/AhmedSIIA/status/940975810667827202
2017-12-13 1849 AST https://twitter.com/AhmedSIIA/status/940987090396999681
2017-12-13 1914 AST https://twitter.com/AhmedSIIA/status/940993386600976385
2017-12-13 1922 AST https://twitter.com/AnsarAllahMC/status/941025654736343040
2017-12-13 1944 AST https://twitter.com/HussainBukhaiti/status/941000900901871616
2017-12-13 1950 AST https://twitter.com/AnsarAllahMC/status/941032570288070656
2017-12-13 2249 AST https://twitter.com/almasirah/status/941047375585476608
2017-12-13 2327 AST https://twitter.com/yemeny604/status/941057127661043712
2017-12-13 2341 AST https://twitter.com/AlkhabarNow/status/941060472849154048
2017-12-13 2357 AST https://twitter.com/AnsarAllahMC/status/941064540535558145
2017-12-13 AFP video - http://u.afp.com/JAq8
2017-12-14 0934 AST CCTV - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDiTqLIBcqY
2017-12-14 1058 AST Al Jazeera - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMT56noqSk0
2017-12-15 19:24 AST Adnan Abdulaziz - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E35-mIwpuRU