Sanaa, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — A bomb-laden drone flown by Yemen's Houthi rebels flew into a military parade on Thursday outside of the southern port city of Aden, killing at least six troops from a Saudi-led coalition and their allies in a brazen attack threatening U.N.-brokered peace efforts to end the yearslong war tearing at the Arab world's poorest nation.
The attack at the Al-Anad Air Base, where American special forces once led their fight against Yemen's al-Qaida branch, targeted high-ranking military officials in Yemen's internationally recognized government.
The attack also raised new questions about Iran's alleged role in arming the Houthis with drone and ballistic missile technology, something long denied by Tehran despite researchers and U.N. experts linking the weapons to the Islamic Republic.
"Once again this proves that the Houthi criminal militias are not ready for peace and that they are exploiting truces in order for deployment and reinforcements," said Information Minister Moammar al-Eryani, who said two senior military officials were wounded in the attack.
"This is time for the international community to stand by the legitimate government and force the militias to give up their weapons and pull out of the cities," he added.
The Houthis immediately claimed the attack through their al-Masirah satellite news channel, saying the attack targeted "invaders and mercenaries" at the base in the southern province of Lahj, leaving "dozens of dead and wounded."
Yemeni officials said that among the wounded were Mohammad Saleh Tamah, head of Yemen's Intelligence Service, senior military commander Mohammad Jawas, and Lahj governor Ahmed al-Turki, adding that authorities were still searching for wounded among the rubble. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
Local reporter Nabil al-Qaiti was attending the ceremony and standing in front of the stage when he saw a drone approach and hover nearby about 25 meters (yards) high in the air, minutes after the parade started. Army spokesman Mohammed al-Naqib was delivering a speech from a podium when the drone exploded.
"It was a very strong explosion and we could feel the pressure," he said, adding that two of the people standing next to him — a soldier and a journalist— were wounded. Al-Qaiti saw many wounded but no dead.
"The drone was packed with explosives," he added.
Some 8,000 soldiers had been taking part in the parade, as well as two governors and a large number of top military commanders including the chief of staff. Initial reports said six troops were killed.
Yemen plunged into civil war in 2014 when the rebels captured Sanaa, and the Saudi-led coalition intervened a year later when they pushed further south. The coalition, which is fighting alongside government troops, has since been trying to restore Yemen's internationally recognized government to power.
Hopes were raised last month that the country was moving toward peace, after the two sides agreed to a prisoner swap and cease-fire in the port city of Hodeida, where rival forces were to withdraw to allow humanitarian aid flows to return and hopefully relieve a country pushed to the brink of famine by war.
Fighting has largely abated in Hodeida but progress on the withdrawal has been slow. The U.N. humanitarian aid chief Wednesday accused the rebels of blocking humanitarian supplies traveling from areas under their control to government-held areas. Mark Lowcock told the U.N. Security Council that the rebels also recently informed humanitarian agencies that 72 hours' notice is required ahead of any movements instead of 48 hours.
Officials in the Saudi-led coalition have shown journalists a series of drones they said showed a growing sophistication by the Houthis, starting first with plastic foam models that could be built by hobby kit to one captured in April that closely resembled an Iranian-made drone.
Those drones have in the past been flown into the radar arrays of Saudi Arabia's Patriot missile batteries, according to the research group Conflict Armament Research, disabling them and allowing the Houthis to fire ballistic missiles into the kingdom unchallenged.
Iran has been accused by the U.S. and the U.N. of supplying ballistic missile technology and arms to the Houthis, something Tehran denies.
Arab satellite channels owned by Saudi Arabia immediately began describing the drone used in Thursday's attack as Iranian made, without offering evidence. However, a United Nations panel of experts on Yemen issued a report in 2018 noting that the Houthi's Qasef-1 drone "is virtually identical in design, dimensions and capability to that of the Ababil-T, manufactured by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries."
"At least two components of the system were supplied to the Islamic Republic of Iran after the implementation of the targeted arms embargo" in April 2015, the panel said.
The Ababil-T can deliver up to a 45-kilogram (100-pound) warhead up to 150 kilometers (95 miles) away.
Such drones also remain difficult to shoot down with either light or heavy weapons fire. Iraqi forces learned while driving out the Islamic State group from northern Iraq, where the extremists would load drones with grenades or simple explosives to target their forces.
Tehran, Jan 9 (AP/UNB)— Iran's supreme leader on Wednesday called U.S. officials "first-class idiots," mocking American leaders as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo toured the Mideast to promote the White House's tough stance on Iran.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's comments were unusually harsh, reflecting the broader tension between Iran and the United States after President Donald Trump withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.
Khamenei, speaking to a group from Iran's religious capital of Qom, made the remark while recounting a story about a U.S. official once predicting he'd celebrate Christmas in Iran.
"Some U.S. officials pretend that they are mad," Khamenei said. "Of course I don't agree with that, but they are first-class idiots."
The supreme leader did not name the official. However, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told a meeting of the Iranian exile group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq last March that "before 2019, we here ... will celebrate in Iran." Trump's personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, has made similar comments before the MEK over the years.
Iran's supreme leader, viewed by Shiite hard-liners as second only to God, typically doesn't make such forceful remarks. However, Trump's decision last year to withdraw from the nuclear deal has seen the 79-year-old cleric grow increasingly critical.
In 2017, Khamenei dismissed remarks by Trump calling Iran a "terrorist" nation as "idiotic." Last May, after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal which saw Iran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, Khamenei told Trump in a speech: "You cannot do a damn thing!"
"The body of this man, Trump, will turn to ashes and become the food of the worms and ants, while the Islamic Republic continues to stand," Khamenei said at the time.
Khamenei's comments Wednesday came as Pompeo visited Iraq. On Tuesday, the U.S. top diplomat threatened that America would double down on commercial and diplomatic efforts in the coming weeks to "put real pressure on Iran."
Khamenei's remarks to Qom residents were meant to mark the anniversary of religious riots in 1978 that challenged Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. They would spiral into the nationwide demonstration that saw the shah leave Iran and give rise to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iranians will commemorate the revolution's 40th anniversary in February.
Dubai, Jan 3 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday it will seek the death penalty against five suspects in the slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a killing that has seen members of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's entourage implicated in the writer's assassination.
Prosecutors announced that 11 suspects in the slaying attended their first court hearing with lawyers, but the statement did not name those in court. It also did not explain why seven other suspects arrested over the Oct. 2 killing at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul did not immediately face formal charges. The kingdom previously announced 18 people had been arrested.
Saudi officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The killing of Khashoggi, who wrote columns critical of Prince Mohammed, has strained the decades-long ties the kingdom enjoys with the United States. It also has added to a renewed international push to end the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency and state television gave few details about the hearing.
"The Public Prosecutor demanded imposing proper punishments against the defendants and is seeking capital punishment for five of the defendants for their direct involvement in the murder," a statement from prosecutors said, without elaborating.
The suspects requested copies of the indictments they faced, as well as asked for more time to prepare for their case, prosecutors said.
While vague on details about the case, prosecutors made a point to express concerns about Turkey. They alleged that Turkish officials did not answer two formal requests made for evidence in the case.
"To date, the Saudi Public Prosecutor has not received any response, and the Public Prosecution is still awaiting their response," the statement said.
Officials in Ankara could not be immediately reached for comment. Turkish officials have previously said they shared evidence with Saudi Arabia and other nations over Khashoggi's killing.
Turkey also has demanded Saudi Arabia extradite those 18 suspects to be tried there for Khashoggi's killing. Turkish security officials have kept up a slow leak of videos, photographs and morbid details surrounding Khashoggi's slaying to pressure the kingdom, as the two U.S.-allied countries vie for influence over the wider Mideast.
Turkish media have published photographs of members of the crown prince's entourage at the consulate in Istanbul ahead of the slaying. Khashoggi's body, believed to have been dismembered after his killing, has yet to be found.
Khashoggi, 59, entered the consulate Oct. 2 as his fiancée waited outside. But unbeknownst to him, a team of Saudi officials had flown in before his arrival and laid in wait for him.
Saudi Arabia denied for weeks that Khashoggi had been killed but later changed its story and ultimately acknowledged the brutal slaying. King Salman ordered the restructuring of the country's intelligence service, but has so far shielded Prince Mohammed, his 33-year-old son who is next in line to the throne in the oil giant kingdom.
All that has not has not stopped widespread international criticism against the kingdom. Under Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia has seen the arrest of business leaders, royals and activists while also recently granting women the right to drive.
U.S. senators in December passed the measure that blamed the prince for Khashoggi's killing and called on Riyadh to "ensure appropriate accountability." Senators also passed a separate measure calling for the end of U.S. aid to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Both measures drew angry responses from the kingdom, but a renewed international effort has begun to end the Yemen war.
It is no surprise that the kingdom would seek to execute those accused in Khashoggi's slaying. Saudi Arabia was the world's third top executioner in 2017, behind China and Iran, according to Amnesty International's most recent figures available.
The kingdom executed at least 146 people, according to the group. It regularly beheads those condemned to death and last year said it "crucified" a Myanmar man, an execution in which the condemned is usually beheaded and then the body put on display, arms outstretched as if crucified.
Lodi, Dec 30 (AP/UNB) — The father of a 2-year-old boy who was separated from his Yemeni mother until she successfully fought the Trump administration's travel ban to see him in the United States laid his body to rest Saturday, a day after the child was taken off life support at a hospital.
Under a cloudless winter day, Ali Hassan carried his son's small body to bury at an Islamic cemetery in California's Central Valley.
"I'm a U.S. citizen; my son is a U.S. citizen," the 22-year-old father told mourners at a service before burial. "The Muslim ban kept my wife from coming to the U.S. for over a year. It forced me to choose between my son's health and keeping our family together. We are angry, but we know our son did not die in vain."
The child's distraught mother mourned privately at home.
Abdullah Hassan died Friday at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland, where his father brought him in the fall to get treatment for a degenerative brain condition. He had been on life support when his 21-year-old mother, Shaima Swileh, arrived last week.
Hassan spent his youth in California's central valley after his family immigrated there from Yemen. During a trip to the warn-torn country in 2016, he fell in love with Swileh and married her that same year.
Because she is Yemeni, Swileh was restricted from traveling to the United States under the White House travel ban that's keeping citizens from Yemen and four other mostly Muslim countries from entering the country.
The family stayed in Cairo, Egypt, while Swileh tried to obtain a waiver to that ban, which would allow her a visa to travel with her family to the United States to receive medical treatment for the boy. But she was repeatedly denied travel documents, Hassan said.
When Abdullah's health worsened, Hassan went ahead to California in October to get their son help. As the couple fought for a waiver, doctors put Abdullah on life support.
"My wife is calling me every day wanting to kiss and hold her son for the one last time," said Hassan, choking up at a news conference earlier this month.
He started losing hope and was considering pulling his son off life support to end his suffering. But then a hospital social worker reached out to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which sued on Dec. 16, said Basim Elkarra, executive director of the advocacy group in Sacramento.
The State Department granted Swileh a waiver the next day, and she has since received a visa to stay in the country.
She was pictured cradling her son in the hospital 10 days ago.
"With their courage, this family has inspired our nation to confront the realities of Donald Trump's Muslim Ban," said Saad Sweilem, a lawyer with the council who represents the family. "In his short life, Abdullah has been a guiding light for all of us in the fight against xenophobia and family separation."
Hassan said he hopes his family's struggle will lead to policy changes and families like his will not have to separate.
Beirut, Dec 29 (AP/UNB) — Syria's military said Friday it had entered the key Kurdish-held town of Manbij in an apparent deal with the Kurds, who are looking for new allies and protection against a threatened Turkish offensive as U.S. troops prepare to leave Syria.
Turkey and American troops patrolling the town denied there was any change of forces in the contested area, contradicting the Syrians and highlighting the potential for chaos in the wake of last week's surprise pronouncement by the United States that it was withdrawing its troops.
Since the U.S. announcement, forces have been building up around Manbij and further east, ushering in new alliances and raising the chances for friction. The Kurds' invitation to Syrian troops shows they'd rather let Syria's Russian- and Iranian-backed government fill the void left by the Americans, than face the prospect of being overwhelmed by their top rival Turkey.
Meanwhile, a flurry of meetings is expected in the coming days as all sides of the conflict scramble to find ways to replace the departing U.S. troops. They include one Saturday in Moscow, where Russia will host top Turkish officials in a possible sign that the two sides could be working on a deal to avert a Turkish offensive into Syria. Russians officials have said they expect Syrian government troops to replace the U.S. troops when they withdraw.
Turkey considers the U.S.-backed Kurdish People's Protection Units, which now controls nearly 30 percent of Syria, a terrorist group linked to an insurgency within its own borders. Kurdish-controlled Manbij has been at the center of rising tension between the U.S. and Turkey.
There were conflicting reports Friday on the location of the Syrian troops, who said they had moved into Manbij and raised the Syrian flag in the town. The Kurdish militia said it has invited the Syrian government to take control of Manbij to protect it against "a Turkish invasion."
But a Kurdish official said the government deployment has so far been limited to the front line with Turkey-backed fighters, based north and west Manbij. And U.S. officials in Washington said Syrian regime forces and some Russian forces had moved a bit closer to the city and were largely south or southwest of the city. The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the troop movements publicly.
The U.S.-led coalition said the announcement that government troops had entered the town was "incorrect," and called "on everyone to respect the integrity of Manbij and the safety of its citizens."
Russia and Iran, meanwhile, welcomed the Syrian announcement. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it a "positive step" that could help stabilize the area. Iran hailed it as a "major step toward establishing the government's authority" over all of Syria. Russia has signaled it expects the Syrian government to deploy where U.S. forces leave.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Syrian government move was "a psychological act," and the situation in Manbij was uncertain. He spoke as Turkey-allied forces in Syria said they were fortifying their front line positions ahead of the possible military offensive.
But Erdogan also noted that his country's goal is to oust the Kurdish militia from along his country's borders. "If terror organizations leave, then there is no work left for us anyway," Erdogan told reporters.
In Washington, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who broke with U.S. President Donald Trump on his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, tweeted that reports about the Kurds aligning with Assad were a "major disaster in the making." Graham, a leading voice on foreign policy and national security issues in Congress, warned the development would be a "nightmare for Turkey and eventually Israel." Graham tweeted that the "big winners" are Russia, Iran, Assad and Islamic State militants.
National Security Adviser John Bolton is expected in Turkey after the new year.
Friday's announcement by the Syrian military comes as Turkey and allied Syrian fighters have been sending in reinforcement to the front lines and threatening an offensive to dislodge the Kurdish forces. In response, the U.S. first warned against unilateral action and increased patrols and observation points in northeastern Syria.
Then, in a surprise move, Trump announced he was withdrawing troops from eastern Syria. He later said the withdrawal would be coordinated with Turkey.
The decision has left America's Syrian Kurdish partners in a conundrum. With no backing from the U.S., the Kurdish forces looked to new allies to protect their Kurdish-administered areas. Partners since 2014, the U.S-led forces and the Kurdish group have liberated most of east Syria from Islamic State militants.
Ilham Ahmed, a senior Kurdish official, said an agreement is being worked out between the Russians and the Syrian government. She said the U.S. troops have not yet withdrawn from Manbij, but said Syrian troops would take over once U.S. withdrawal is complete.
"The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive," Ahmed said. "If the Turks' excuse is the (Kurdish militia), they will leave their posts to the government."
The Syrian government has said it welcomes the Kurdish group returning to areas under its authority. But government officials have stated they will not accept an autonomous area, a main demand for the Kurds.
The Syrian military declaration came shortly after the Kurds invited the government to seize control of Manbij to prevent a Turkish attack.
Pro-state Syrian al-Ikhbariya TV aired footage from inside Manbij of commercial streets on a rainy day, but didn't show any troops. It carried images of a military convoy driving late at night, purportedly to Manbij.
A timetable for the U.S. withdrawal has not yet been made public.