Fifteen people on their way to a wedding in Yemen were killed in an air strike after their party was mistaken for an al-Qaida convoy, local security officials said on Thursday.
The officials did not identify the plane in the strike in central al-Bayda province, but tribal and local media sources said that it was a drone.
“An air strike missed its target and hit a wedding car convoy, 10 people were killed immediately and another five who were injured died after being admitted to the hospital,” one security official said.
Five more people were injured, the officials said.
The United States has stepped up drone strikes as part of a campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), regarded by Washington as the most active wing of the militant network.
Yemen, AQAP’s main stronghold, is among a handful of countries where the United States acknowledges using drones, although it does not comment on the practice.
Human Rights Watch said in a detailed report in August that US missile strikes, including armed drone attacks, have killed dozens of civilians in Yemen.
Stabilising the country, which is also struggling with southern separatists and northern rebels, is an international priority due to fears of disorder in a state that flanks top oil producer Saudi Arabia and major shipping lanes.
On Monday, missiles fired from a US drone killed at least three people travelling in a car in eastern Yemen.
Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni activist who testified to the US Senate about the impact of the drone strikes earlier this year predicted the strike would drain Yemeni citizens’ outrage over the recent attack on the defense ministry by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula that killed more than 50 people.
“The strike today literally saved AQAP’s image and shorted by months the PR work would have needed to do,” al-Muslimi said. “Nothing could have made Yemenis forget the horrible images of the attack in Sanaa more than the images of this current drone strike that targeted a wedding party.”
The USA executive director of Amnesty International, Steven W Hawkins, urged the Obama administration to ditch its policy of not commenting on drone strikes. “US silence is unacceptable. Instead of hiding behind secrecy, the US needs to acknowledge and immediately commit to investigating all credible reports of potentially unlawful killings,” he said in a prepared statement.
The United Nations special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions, Christof Heyns, vowed an inquiry into the incident, building on a year in which the UN has taken a far more active interest than ever in civilian deaths linked to drone strikes.
“If proven to be correct, this is very serious,” Heyns said in a statement.
“I have to verify the facts before I can give further comments, and need to engage with the governments of the USA and Yemen to get their explanation of what appears to be a terrible event. But you can be sure I am following it very closely.”