WASHINGTON — A US military drone strike in Yemen last December may have killed up to a dozen civilians on their way to a wedding and injured others, including the bride, a human rights group says. US officials say only members of Al Qaeda were killed, but have refused to make public the details of two US investigations into the incident.
Human Rights Watch released a report on the drone strike Thursday, citing interviews with eight witnesses and relatives of the dead as well as Yemeni officials.The report said four Hellfire missiles were fired at a wedding procession of 11 vehicles on Dec. 12, 2013, in Radda in southern Yemen, killing at least 12 men and wounding at least 15 others.
The report said the procession ‘‘may have included members’’ of Yemen’s Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, ‘‘although it is not clear who they were or what was their fate.’’ Family members and survivors say all those hit were civilians; Yemeni officials told Human Rights Watch that most were militants.
‘‘We asked both the Yemeni and the US authorities to tell us which of the dead and wounded were members of militant groups and which, if any, were civilians,’’ said report author Letta Tayler, a senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. ‘‘They did not reply to this question.’’
She added: ‘‘While we do not rule out the possibility that AQAP fighters were killed and wounded in this strike, we also do not rule out the possibility that all of those killed and wounded were civilians.’’
The New York-based group called on the US government to investigate and make the findings public.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, said he would not comment on specific operational details. He noted that the Yemeni government has stated that the targets were ‘‘dangerous senior Al Qaeda militants.’’
US and Yemeni officials said the target of the attack, Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, a midlevel Al Qaeda leader, was wounded and had escaped.