In a rare public apology, the military leader of al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen has said that one of his fighters disobeyed orders and attacked a hospital attached to the defence ministry during a December assault that killed 52 people.
Qassim al-Rimi, commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said in a video posted on the Internet that the attackers were warned in advance not to enter the hospital within the complex, nor a place for prayer there.
But he said one fighter did. That fighter and eight others were killed in the December 5 suicide bombing and gunmen attack on the ministry complex in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital. Seven foreigners from Germany, India, the Philippines and Vietnam were among the dead – all who were providing aid at the hospital.
We rid ourselves of what our brother did. We did not order him to do so and we are not pleased with what he did.
“Now we acknowledge our mistake and guilt,” al-Rimi said in a video released late Saturday by al-Qaeda’s media arm al-Mallahem.
“We offer our apology and condolences to the victims’ families. We accept full responsibility for what happened in the hospital and will pay blood money for the victims’ families.”
The apology seemed prompted by Yemen state television earlier broadcasting a video showing a gunman attacking doctors and other hospital staff. Several al-Qaeda members tried to dismiss the video as fake in posts on the internet, but the outcry apparently embarrassed the al-Qaeda branch to the point of issuing an unusual expression of regret from the group.
“We rid ourselves of what our brother did,” al-Rimi said. “We did not order him to do so and we are not pleased with what he did.”
However, al-Rimi said despite the group making a mistake, “we are continuing with our jihad”.
The authenticity of the English-subtitled video could not be absolutely confirmed, though it was consistent with others reported by the Associated Press news agency and came from al-Qaeda’s media arm.
Al-Rimi repeated al-Qaeda’s earlier claim that the defence ministry was attacked because it housed drone control rooms and American experts. He also said that security headquarters used by Americans in their war are “legitimate targets”.
He also warned that fighters will attack any other military posts and camps that “cooperate with the American drones by spying, planting chips, providing information or offering intelligence advice.”
“We have a long list of these places,” al-Rimi said.
US drone strikes in Yemen have inflicted heavy losses on al-Qaeda and are part of a joint US-Yemeni campaign against a group which Washington has called the most dangerous branch of the “global terrorist network”.
But a December 12 drone attack that mistook a wedding party convoy for an al-Qaeda convoy, killing 15 people, has fueled anger against the US and the government in Sanaa among a Yemeni public already opposed to the strikes.
Yemen’s parliament later urged the government to end the use of the country’s airspace by US drones.