A massive blast that killed 15 children and injured more than 100 people in the residential Sawan neighborhood in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on April 7, was the result of an explosion in a Houthi controlled warehouse and not a coalition strike, revealed human rights organizations.
Human Rights Watch and Mwatana for Human Rights carried on Thursday a detailed report which pointed out that a Houthi-controlled warehouse that stored volatile material near homes and schools caught fire and detonated midday resulting in the devastation and human toll.
The groups could not determine the initial cause of the fire at the warehouse. Witnesses did not see or hear aircraft, the report said. The report provides details of what followed: “Scores of Houthi security forces arrived at the site, fired warning shots, and beat and detained several people who tried to photograph the warehouse, witnesses said. For several days, Houthi forces removed large quantities of undisclosed materials from the site on flatbed trucks, and prevented human rights researchers from accessing the area until April 11.”
“The Houthi authorities need to provide credible information and stop storing large concentrations of volatile materials in densely populated areas,” said Radhya al-Mutawakel, the chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights. “The Houthis played a role in the tragedy and should hold responsible officials to account and provide compensation to victims.”
Mwatana and Human Rights Watch determined, based on in-person interviews with witnesses, videos, and satellite imagery, that the contents of the warehouse had caught fire and exploded. The groups were unable to identify the warehouse contents, but available information shows that they were flammable and explosive, posing a foreseeable danger to civilians living and going to school in the area.
The report said there was no evidence at the site to suggest that it was airstrike or incoming munition. Four videos of the blast that bystanders recorded and uploaded to the internet within hours also do not indicate the cause of the fire.
Researchers too did not observe craters that might have indicated an aerial bomb when they were first able to access the site days after the explosion.
On the evening of April 7, Al Arabiya had reported that the coalition spokesperson, Col. Turki al-Malki, stated that the coalition had not targeted residential areas in Sanaa. The Houthis and some news reports had at that time attributed the deadly explosion to a coalition airstrike.
“The Houthis’ decision to store volatile material near homes and schools despite the foreseeable risk to civilians led to the death and injury of dozens of schoolchildren and adults,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Houthis should stop covering up what happened in Sawan and start doing more to protect civilians under their control.”
On the basis of field interviews with witnesses, video clips and satellite images, the two organizations found that the contents of the depot were set on fire and exploded.
They were unable to determine the contents of the warehouse. Available information indicated the goods were flammable and explosive, posing an expected threat to civilians living nearby and to those attending schools near that locality.