DHA10002 – Sanaban Wedding Strike

February 21, 2019

Incident ID: DHA10002
Location: Sanaban, Dhamar, Mayfa’at Anss, Yemen
Coordinates: 14.426831, 44.664921
Incident Grading: Confirmed
Date: 2015-10-07
Time (AST): Approximately 2200 AST

KEY FINDINGS

– We identified the location of the alleged strike as the house and courtyard located at coordinates 14.426831, 44.664921. Using open sources, including images, videos, and satellite imagery, we believe that the strike took place in an area primarily inhabited by civilians, while a wedding party was taking place.

– By comparing satellite imagery, media reports, and user generated content (UGC), We were able to determine that the strike occurred around 2200 AST on 07/10/2015.

– Contextual evidence and witness accounts indicate that this was an airstrike. The Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) confirmed that an airstrike did take place in this area on this date. However, it denies that the wedding was targeted.

DISCOVERY PROCESS

Searches were carried out using English and Arabic variations of the name “Dhamar” and “Sanaban” and words such as “wedding”, “airstrike”, etc in both English and Arabic. These search terms were entered into Google, with specific site searches for sites of relevance, such as YouTube and the Saudi Press Agency. The search terms were also used in Tweetdeck.

Initial Google searches led to this article, which identifies the strike as having occurred on 07/10/2015. From this point, searches focused on the days immediately following this date. Results from these searches can be found organized below.

Sample search string: site:https://www.spa.gov.sa حفل زواج ذمار

International Media:

The Telegraph 15 fatalities, 25 wounded
The Irish Times
25 fatalities, 50 wounded
The New York Times
23 fatalities
Samaa TV
13 fatalities, 38 wounded
Yaman Yoon
54 fatalities, 31 wounded
Al Hayat
28 fatalities, 20 wounded
CNN Arabic
30 fatalities
Eje Central
26 fatalities, 40 wounded
Al Jazeera
28 fatalities 38 wounded

Other:

List of casualties (with names) published by the Security Information Center, General Directorate of Moral Guidance and Public Relations, Ministry of Interior of Yemen (43 fatalities (although only 42 names are listed), 65 wounded)
JIAT report

Human Rights Watch
43 fatalities
Yemen Peace Project 43 fatalities

Social Media (sorted by upload date and time):

07/10/2015  2255 AST: Tweet – First report of attack
08/10/2015 1457 AST: Tweet – Images of aftermath
08/10/2015  1702 AST: Tweet – Video of aftermath (referred to as “aftermath video”)
08/10/2015  1827 AST: Youtube video – Yemen Today report (referred to as “Yemen Today report”)
08/10/2015  2123 AST: Tweet – Video of rescue efforts
09/10/2015  0254 AST: Tweet – Images of aftermath
10/10/2015 1355 AST: Youtube video – News report on incident
12/10/2015  0325 AST: Youtube video – Yemen Today news report from the next morning (referred to as “post-incident report”)
12/10/2015  0344 AST: Youtube video – Yemen Today news report
16/10/2015  1746 AST: Youtube video – What appears to be Yemen Today footage edited to be more dramatic (referred to as “Haitham video”)
11/08/2016  0621 AST: Youtube video – News report on commemoration

WHERE?

Where did this incident take place?

Topography to the southwest of Sanaban matches that captured in video from the incident and led us to examine that Sanaban in greater detail.

Still from 0:13 of this video (henceforward known as “aftermath video”) (Source: Twitter)

We discovered that Google Maps had associated images with this location, although the exact source of these images could not be established. We noted that the horizon did appear to match that seen in the aftermath video.

Image which Google Maps associates with this location

Both these views also match the Google Earth Pro landscape view of this location.

Google Earth Pro Landscape view of this location facing southwest. The yellow pin marks the location of the minaret seen in the still from the aftermath video

We believe the coordinates of the building which was destroyed are 14.426831, 44.664921. This location will be referred to as “Building 1” for the rest of this report. Much of the UGC (like the video panorama below) is captured from coordinates 14.427050, 44.664794, which is immediately to the north of Building 1. We built the panorama below by stitching together still images from the aftermath video to give an impression of the scene.

Panorama of the aftermath video. (Source: Twitter)

In the aftermath video we can see three primary structures (Building 1 on the left, a minaret, and the building on the right) from the filming location facing southwest toward the mountain. We see that the remains of Building 1 are tall and thin, which matches satellite imagery taken after the strike.

Left: Close up of Building 1. Note the two distinctive half-moon windows on the bottom floor to the left. (source) Right: Google Earth image of location taken on 2017/01/20. Shading shows viewpoint (courtesy of Google/DigitalGlobe)

We can also match up distinct features of Building 1 and its surroundings with features seen in satellite imagery.

Top: Comparison of aftermath video panorama. Bottom: Google Earth imagery taken on 08/04/2013 (courtesy of Google/DigitalGlobe)
Left: Building 1 (source) Right: location identified on satellite imagery taken on 30/01/2017 (courtesy of Google/DigitalGlobe)

We can stitch together two images from another social media post to form a panorama which gives us a more detailed view of the area to the south west of Building 1, which we have done in the image below. When we compare this panorama to satellite imagery we can see that the key features match. We know this location also depicts Building 1 as the pair of distinctive half-moon windows on the base of Building 1 can be seen on the far left hand side of the panorama.

Comparison of image panorama (top) showing the area to the south west of Building 1 and satellite imagery (bottom) from Google Earth Pro taken on 30/01/2017.

We can also clearly see the damage to Building 1 in Google Earth satellite imagery.

Satellite Imagery – Left: 08/04/2013. Right 04/03/2016 (courtesy of Google/Digital Earth)

What was the location being used for?

The location, according to reports (1, 2), was the house of Muhammed Saleh Ghouba “ محمد صالح غوبة” and was being used for the wedding of his sons.

On Wikimapia, a crowd-sourced mapping service, many of the tagged sites in the village al-Sanaban are local homes, a primary school, and a cemetery. No locations are marked as military on Wikimapia. The majority of these locations were added 5-11 years ago.

Screenshot from Wikimapia depicting marked locations in the vicinity of Sanaban. Building 1 is marked by the cross near the center of the image.

Similarly, on Google Maps, nearby locations include several mosques, a garden, a shopping mall/market, and a poultry farm. It is not currently possible to accurately identify when these locations were added.

Screenshot from Google Maps

Satellite imagery from the time does not appear to show any fortifications or obvious military objects. It should be noted that it is not possible to confirm the absence of Houthi soldiers in this area, only that open sources indicates the area is inhabited by civilians and was likely being used as both a residential and commercial area.

Was there military activity in this location?

Analysis of the sources available to us do not indicate that there was any military activity in the immediate area of Building 1. According to several sources, Muhammed al-Sanabani was “a tribal leader known to support the Houthi rebels.” However, footage of the aftermath of the strike and from inside the hospital, as well as witness reports, indicate that most of the victims of the strike were civilians, including women and children.

According to the Yemen Peace Project, “only one military post could be seen 15 kilometers south of Sanaban, on the way to Dhamar City” and “the presence of the Houthis could be hardly seen in the village.” According to Human Rights Watch, “Al-Sanabani and other residents said there were no military targets in the vicinity, no Houthi forces, not even a checkpoint.”

In images posted to social media depicting the aftermath of the incident there do appear to be some people carrying weapons. It should be noted that these images appear to have been taken the next day, hours after this incident, and that carrying a weapon in Yemeni culture can be regarded as a mark of rank, and not necessarily a marker of a combatant.

Two people who appear to be carrying weapons at the aftermath of the incident at Building 1. The image to the left has been sharpened to make identification of the weapon easier (source)

There also appears to be at least one person dressed in military fatigues, although again it should be noted this was taken some time after the incident.

Person who appears to be wearing camouflage uniform at the site of Building 1 (source)

No armed persons or people seen in military uniform could be seen in the videos taken at night immediately after the attack.

WHEN

Date

All media reports agree that the strike occurred on 2015/10/07. Sentinel Hub satellite imagery appears to support this date, as we can see a structural change at the location of Building 1, marked in the white square, between 04/10/2015 and 21/10/2015. Although the imagery is indistinct, we can see that there has been enough change for this relatively low resolution imagery to demonstrate something significant has happened.  The structure appears slightly smaller and has a darker area surrounding it, which may be caused by the debris field resulting from this incident.

Comparison of Sentinel Hub imagery from 04/10/2015 (left) and 21/10/2015 (right). The location of Building 1 is marked by the white square.

Time

According to Human Rights Watch, the strike occurred around 2130 AST. The Yemen Peace Project claims that the strike occurred around 2200 AST.

UGC supports this timeframe. Much of the collected UGC is filmed during evening hours, as is evident by the darkness of the footage and the use of flashlights by rescuers. (seen here and here).

Notably, these videos appear to have been taken immediately following the strike, as we can see people digging through rubble attempting to rescue people who are still alive and evacuating people to the hospital. Most of the UGC content captured during the daytime is people walking through the rubble with much less urgency, indicating it was taken some hours after the strike occurred and after rescue efforts had been abandoned.

Furthermore, one of the earliest reports of the attack found through a methodological Tweetdeck search was posted at 2255 AST. This supports the argument that the strike occurred at around 2200 AST.

WHAT HAPPENED?

UGC and news reports indicate that most of the victims of the attack being women and children who were attending the wedding or part of the wedding party (1, 2, 3, 4). While there appear to be one or two people carrying weapons or dressed in military fatigues at the aftermath of the scene the next morning (see previous page), the majority of the people present at the site appear to have been civilians.

An image posted on Facebook identified the wedding as that of three brothers, Moayed, Ayman and Abdulrahman Ghoba. According to an article by a Sharif Abdel Kaddous, a journalist who visited the site for PRI, on 2015/10/07 Ayman and two of his brothers were getting married in a joint ceremony. Hundreds of relatives and neighbours would likely have come to take part. Their three-story house was reportedly brightly decorated.

At approximately 2200 AST the attack took place. Multiple witness statements (1, 2) claim that aircraft bombed this location.

To Whom?

An image of a traditional banner made to celebrate the wedding of the three brothers was posted by some news outlets.

Image of grooms posted by Yamanyoon. Note that this page contains other graphic images of the casualties.

In an image taken by the journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous in Sanban, the graves of those killed in the strike are visible. These graves include one of the groomsmen, Abdulrahman Mohammed Saleh Ghouba and his sister Eman Mohammed Saleh Ghouba. Note the minaret in the top left of the image.

Image of the graves of those allegedly killed in this attack

The minaret seen in the image of the grave matches the minaret in Sanaban as seen in several photos posted on Google Earth (1, 2). This minaret is located at coordinates 14.423183, 44.663781. Due to this we believe that the image of the grave was taken in Sanaban’s graveyard.

Image of mosque from Google Maps

As the injured were moved into local hospitals, there was a demand for blood to treat the injured. In a Facebook group post, an image was taken showing volunteers donating blood. The post thanks the “sons of Dhamar” for donating blood to the hospitals and was posted on the group on 2015/10/08 at 0332 AST.

Post from the ahraralamen Facebook page

In the early hours of 2015/10/08 multiple images were posted on Facebook by different local news gathering groups and individuals in Yemen, showing injured children, men and a woman with severe burns. Using reverse image search, we identified that the images were unlikely to have been posted from previous incidents. The green bedding also matches bedding seen in thisYemen Today video.

Abdullah Qais Al-Sanabani

One of the children injured was identified as Abdullah Qais Al-Sanabani, a child prodigy who, according to Reuters “invented a solar-powered remote control car that could flip over and become a boat” This won him an international competition in 2012 and a free visit to NASA, the American space agency. Abdullah was also featured in a TedX Sana’a talk in 2013 where he spoke of his trip to the US and his invention. After the strike, a crowdfunded campaign was launched to send Abdullah to Shriners Children Hospital in Boston for treatment.

Image posted by Ryan Al-Sanabani‘s cousin on Facebook

Ryan Al-Sanabani’s cousin wrote in the comment that accompanied the above image: “Earlier this day my uncle, various doctors and myself stood around his hospital bed and explained to him that we wouldn’t be able to salvage some of the deeper injuries, that he would wake up Monday morning without a right arm above elbow and two toes short in his left foot. His father and I couldn’t help but shed tears as the doctor explained the condition to him, Abdullah nodded looked up at us and courageously said “’don’t be sad god willing i’ll be okay’”.

What kind of vehicles are present in the image and videos?

The only vehicles that appear to be present at the scene in open sources are cars that have been destroyed or damaged by the strike. According to reportsand witness accounts, these are likely the cars that were part of the convoy bringing the brides and their families to the grooms house.

Composite image of the cars at the scene from the aftermath video

Verification of night-time videos

Although much of the media filmed at night is difficult to verify, two videos contain key pieces of footage showing people digging in the rubble of a building and rows of what appear to be covered bodies. These are the Yemen Today report and a video posted by the user Haitham al Ansi (henceforth called the Haitham video) which has a Yemen Today watermark, indicating it was originally filmed by them. Although the Haitham video was likely originally filmed by Yemen Today and shares large portions of footage, it has had music and effects added to make the video more dramatic.

We can identify that the Haitham video uses footage from the scene of this attack. In the Haitham video we can see several cars from 00:36.

Orientation of cars seen in the Haitham video. Arrows indicate which direction they are facing. A different coloured square in the rear indicates a pick-up truck.
  1. White car
  2. Black SUV
  3. White saloon with yellow stripe
  4. Dark damaged car
  5. Silver car – front left door damaged
  6. White pick-up truck

What appear to be the same cars, in the same orientation, can be seen in the aftermath video, indicating that the Haitham video was filmed in the same place.

Cars in the aftermath video. The numbers reflect the cars seen in the Haitham video. Car 3 does not appear to be visible.

Further confirmation that these are the same cars is this Yemen Today post-incident report made the day after which again shows this group of cars, including the white saloon with a yellow stripe (number 3).

Cars in the Yemen Today post-incident report. The numbers reflect the cars seen in the Haitham video.

All these videos, including the Haitham video, the aftermath video and the Yemen Today post-incident report, depict the same group of cars in the same orientation. This demonstrates that some or all of the footage filmed at night was filmed at Building 1. Considering the amount of footage shared between the Haitham video and the Yemen Today report taken at night it also seems likely the Yemen Today report was also filmed in the vicinity of Building 1.

It should also be noted that this group of cars seem to be civilian in nature and do not appear to have had any modifications such as weapons mounts or armour.

Was it an airstrike?

The contextual information, and eyewitness statements describing planes flying overhead, strongly indicate that this was an airstrike.

Yemen Peace Project:  “‘The warplane was circling noticeably as the bridal convoy was approaching the village, and I heard it flying at low latitude to the northwest as the missile struck the house,’ said local resident Maher Mohammed Saleh, 30, who was some 10 meters away from the house. ‘I even heard the missile whizzing before it hit the house.’”

Furthermore, a Joint Incidents Assessment Team investigation confirmed that an airstrike was carried out in this vicinity on this date (although it denied the wedding was the target).

Who is in the background?

There are several witnesses and rescuers in the open source content, mostly men in civilian clothing. Footage taken inside the hospital shows victims of the strike, many of whom are children.

Child seen in hospital in report from Yemen Today

The people being interviewed in open sources appear to all be civilians, almost all men. They are not dressed in military uniforms and none of them appear to be armed. It is likely that several of these men were involved in the rescue efforts, as some are wearing headlamps and flashlights.

Man wearing headlamp during interview during report by Yemen Today

CASUALTIES

The casualty count for this strike varies. Here are the reports we found, from lowest to highest:
Samaa TV
13 fatalities, 38 wounded
The Telegraph
15 fatalities, 25 wounded
The New York Times
23 fatalities
The Irish Times
25 fatalities, 50 wounded
Eje Central
26 fatalities, 40 wounded
Al Hayat
28 fatalities, 20 wounded
CNN Arabic
30 fatalities
Human Rights Watch
43 fatalities
Yemen Peace Project
43 fatalities
Security Information Center
, 43 fatalities, 65 wounded
Yaman Yoon
54 fatalities, 31 wounded

Casualty list

The Security Information Center (SIC), a Houthi-led government entity, also published the ages and names of the alleged fatalities (original in Arabic). It should be noted that the SIC appears to have made an editing error and only included 42 names:  

1- Gamal Salih Gwayeh, 50 years old
2 – Issam Jamal Saleh Guwayeh, 21 years old
3 – Mohammed Essam Jamal 3 years
4 – Nourhan Mohammed Jamal 6 Sinwan
5 – غريسة علي قطران
6 – Mohammed Saleh Ghweih, 55 years old
7 – Faiza Ahmad Nasser Al-Sanabani, 50 years old
8 – Abdulrahman Mohammed Saleh Gwayeh 22 years
9 – Tariq Abdulrahman Saleh Gwayeh 20 years
10 – Ayman Mohammed Saleh Gwayeh 25 years old
11 – Jamila Mohammed Saleh Guwayeh, 32 years old
12 – Saleh Anwar Rabah 13 years
13 – Mohammed Abdul Aziz Al – Balaysheh 18 years old
14 – Khalid Jubair Jamah, 23 years old
15 – Yousef Saleh Musleh Gwayeh 16 years old
17 – Salim Ahmed Al-Mardai, 32 years old
16 – N/A
18 – Mohammed Jalal Mohammed Saleh Gwayeh 7 years
19 – Anwar Mohammed Abdullah Almsmari 35 years
20 – Zaina Adnan Hassan Al-Sanabani 3 years
21 – Mohammed Mohammed Saleh Gwayeh 17 years
22 – Shehab Khaled Al Hadrami 10 years
23 – Mohammed Majed Nasser Ali Hassan 8 years
24 – Jamal Mohammed Saleh Gwayeh 28 years old
25 – Mohammed Abdulrahman Saleh Gwayeh 17 years
26 – Jamal Abdulrahman Saleh Gwayeh 12 years
27 – Sorour Marwan Saleh Ayed 12 years old
28 – Lamia Ali Abed Rabbo Ahmed Al Masri 8 years
29 – Rich Ammar Salah Al Masri 15 years
30 – Khadra Maqbel Salah 60 years
31 – Saleh Saleh Ahmed Salah 30 years
32 – Arwa ‘Abdraba al-Masri, 30 years old
33 – Amal Ali Abd Rabo Al Masri 40 years old
34 – Jamila Ali Abderba Al-Masri 18 years old
35 – Khadija Saleh Mohammed Al-Sayed 45 years old
36 – Ahlam Mohammed Mohammed Al Shahari 11 years
37 – Afaf Murad Al-Masri 12 years old
38 – سعادة مقب صلاح
39 – Reham Ammar Salah Al Masri 12 years
40 – Lady Ahmed Ali 30 years
41 – Share Ali Abdo Ahmed Shahari 35 years
42 – Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed Al-Masri 20 years
43 – Hadeel Mohammed Ahmed 11 years

STATEMENTS FROM PARTIES TO THE CONFLICT

Saudi-led Coalition (SLC)

The SLC denied involvement immediately following the airstrike, claiming:

“The coalition did not conduct any air strikes in that area. Ongoing fighting between the Houthis and other factions have been going on in that area. Not every time an explosion or an attack takes place, it is committed by the coalition. We do not target civilian areas.”

JIAT investigated the claim “that an airstrike killed at least 47 civilians and wounded 58 women and children during a wedding on 6 October [emphasis added]” and published its findings on 05/08/2016. JIAT claimed that:

reference to the records related to the flights show that no target was bombed on the province of (Dhamar) at the date of the claim, but the evaluation team…discussed the subject of operations which targeted the same area at close dates.

It became clear that an air strike took place on 2015-10-07 on the Dhamar-Rada’a-Al-Bayda road. A group of armed vehicles…were targeted at the precise coordinates on the asphalt road and there was no targeting of civilian objects in the same area.

It is worth noting that the wedding was actually targeted on 07/10/2015 (not 06/10/2015 as the JIAT statement claims), which is when JIAT confirms a strike did occur. JIAT said this strike targeted the same road which Building 1 is adjacent to, although based on our geolocation, the distance between the road mentioned by JIAT and Building 1 is approximately 162 meters. Furthermore, JIAT claims that a group of vehicles was targeted, it is possible that this is the same the convoy of cars that was escorting the brides and their families to the wedding location.

Houthi Government

The Houthi-aligned Yemeni Security Information Center, General Directorate of Moral Guidance and Public Relations, Ministry of Interior of Yemen published a list of casualties of the attack with names. The statement that accompanied this list blamed Saudi Arabia and stated that a wedding party had been attacked.

CONCLUSION

Taking into consideration the available open source information, it appears the most likely scenario is that on the evening of 07/10/2015 an airstrike hit Building 1 while a wedding party was taking place there. Despite JIAT denying they had targeted this wedding party, their statements appeared to contain inconsistencies.