Fate of Saudi crew in Yemen jet crash remains 'unknown'

Fate of Saudi crew in Yemen jet crash remains 'unknown'
Two officers who were flying a Saudi fighter jet that crashed in Yemen's Al-Jawf are missing after the incident.
5 min read
16 February, 2020
The Saudi fighter jet crashed on Friday [Getty]
The fate of the crew of a Saudi warplane that crashed in Yemen remained uncertain on Sunday after Iran-linked Houthi rebels claimed to have shot down the aircraft.

The Riyadh-led military coalition fighting the rebels said the two officers ejected from the plane before it crashed in northern Al-Jawf province Friday but that the rebels opened fire at them "in violation of international humanitarian law".

"The joint forces command of the Coalition holds the terrorist Houthi militia responsible for the lives and wellbeing of the Tornado air crew," the coalition said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency late on Saturday.

The statement did not specify whether the crew had survived or if they had been captured after the plane crashed in Houthi-controlled territory.

The coalition also did not elaborate on the reasons for the crash.

But if Huothi involvement is confirmed, the rare downing of a coalition warplane would mark a setback for a military alliance known for its air supremacy and signal the rebels' increasingly potent arsenal.

The rebels released footage of what they called the launch of their "advanced surface-to-air missile" and the moment it purportedly struck the jet in the night sky, sending it crashing down in a ball of flames.

The crash triggered air strikes in the area where the plane went down, an apparent Saudi-led retaliation that the UN said left 31 civilians dead and 12 others wounded.

'Hellish place'

The rebels reported multiple coalition air strikes in the area, adding that women and children were among the dead and wounded, according to rebel television station Al-Masirah.

The coalition conceded the "possibility of collateral damage" during what it termed a "search and rescue operation" at the site of the jet crash.

The coalition force has been widely criticised for the high civilian death toll from its bombing campaigns in Yemen, which has prompted some Western governments to cut arms deliveries to the countries taking part.

Lise Grande, the UN coordinator, on Saturday denounced the "terrible strikes" and said it was "shocking" that five years into the conflict combatants were still failing to abide by their legal obligation to protect civilians.

The charity group Save the Children called for an urgent and independent investigation into the killings, urging those responsible be held to account for what it said was an air raid in a residential area.

"The war shows no signs of slowing down. Yemen is a hellish place for children," its country director Xavier Joubert said in a statement.

"Those who continue to sell arms to the warring parties must realise that by supplying weapons for this war, they contribute to making atrocities like today's all too common."

The coalition intervened against the Houthis in 2015, in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, and sparked what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.


On Wednesday, the coalition said it will put on trial military personnel suspected of being behind deadly air strikes on Yemeni civilians.

The announcement by coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki is the first of its kind since the coalition, which includes the United Arab Emirates.

"The judicial authorities have begun the procedures of the trial, and the judgements will be announced once they acquire the peremptory status," Maliki, quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency, told journalists in London.

He said the trials would be based on the results of investigations by the Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT), which the coalition established but says operates independently.

The cases being investigated include a 2018 air strike on a school bus in the northern region of Dahyan that killed at least 40 children, Saudi-based Arab News said.

They also include a raid on a wedding party the same year in the Houthi-controlled Bani Qais area of Hajja province, which left 20 dead, and the 2016 deadly bombing of a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), in which 19 people were killed.

The coalition is committed to holding responsible "violators... of international humanitarian law - if any - in accordance with the laws and regulations of each country in the coalition", Maliki added. 

The number of suspects and their nationalities were not immediately known.

Both the coalition and the rebels have been accused by the United Nations and rights groups of committing violations in Yemen that could amount to war crimes.

In September, UN war crimes investigators appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2017 said they had "identified, where possible, individuals who may be responsible for international crimes" and had provided the confidential list to UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

If confirmed by an independent and competent court, many of the violations identified "may result in individuals being held responsible for war crimes," they said in a statement.

"There are no clean hands" in the conflict, one of the experts, Charles Garraway, told reporters at the time.

Both the Yemen government and the Saudi-led coalition refused to cooperate with the experts.

According to the experts, air strikes, indiscriminate shelling, snipers and landmines were terrorising civilians across Yemen, one of the most impoverished countries in the world.

They urged the international community to refrain from providing the parties at war in Yemen weapons that could be used in the conflict.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have bought billions of dollars' worth of weapons from the United States, France and Britain.

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