A series of up to six confirmed US drone and/or airstrikes across Azzan killed up to 24 people, including two children, on October 14, 2011. The others killed were reportedly Al Qaeda militants.
In the first of several attacks on this day, a drone attack struck a house in the Azan district of Shabwa, targeting the Egyptian-born AQAP Yemen media chief Ibrahim al-Bana, but the occupants of the house had left two minutes earlier, according to local tribal elders. There were no casualties reported from this incident.
A second drone attack then struck either a vehicle or a restaurant area. PBS Frontline later filmed at the scene of the attack, the footage showing the ruined foundations of a small building along with a nearby crater. Abdel-Rahman Anwar al Awlaki, the 16-year old son of al Awlaki, had been killed in the strike.
A statement from Abdel-Rahman’s family read, “he left with some friends for dinner under the moonlight when an American missile landed, killing Abdel-Rahman and his friends”. In a separate statement, the family said: “On October 14th, 2011 Abdulrahman, along with some of his tribe’s youth have gone barbecuing under the moonlight. A drone missile hit their congregation killing Abdulrahman and several other teenagers.” A second teenager and family member, Ahmed Abdel Rahman al Awlaki, 17, is known to have been killed in the strike. Five to seven others were also killed, including Sarhan al Qusa (aka Farhan al Quso) brother of AQAP leader Fahd al-Qusa or Quso, according to a member of Awlaki’s tribe. Reuters later claimed that the dead men were planning to renounce Al Qaeda before they were killed. Elders claimed that four other Awlaki tribal members died in the strike.
Also initially reported killed was militant Ibrahim al Bana. However, two weeks after the strike, AQAP released leaflets stating that he had not been killed. Ansar al Sharia also reported in its second October newsletter that al Bana’s death was “a lie”. He was confirmed to be alive by the US State Department on January 5 2016 when it announced that al Bana had been designated “a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Executive Order (E.O) 13224” and a reward of $5 million was offered for information leading to his killing or captured.
The New York Times detailed that the airstrikes were allegedly conducted by American drones and were responsible for the deaths of at nine individuals, including Al-Banna as well as the seventeen-year-old son of Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American-born Yemeni cleric who was killed roughly a month before the airstrike that killed his son. The elder Awlaki was an American citizen and his death raised significant legal questions about the use of American drones to kill American citizens without a trial. CNN did not confirm if Awlaki’s son, named Abdul Rahman Anwar Awlaki, was among those killed in the strike, but on October 15th, Haaretz.com confirmed that Al-Awlaki’s son had indeed been killed. This story was corroborated by Taiwan News, but the younger Awlaki’s age was listed as twenty-one. There were varying numbers of those killed in the strike, with Pressit.com listing seven dead but Haaretz stating that nine were killed. While the number of dead was in contention, there was universal acceptance that the strike, which also struck a mosque injuring many, were American-made drones.
Longwarjournal.org published a disturbing story that claimed that Al-Awlaki’s son hoped to become a martyr like his father, making such a statement just hours before his death. The boy, also listed as young as sixteen years old in the LA Times, was killed with at least six other individuals in an airstrike conducted by American drones in Yemen. According to a Reuters articles published on October 18th, the death toll of the strike had reached twenty-four people. Time magazine published a piece in late October criticizing the Obama administration’s tactics in Yemen, questioning whether the death of young Al-Awlaki was merely “paying for the sins of his father?” When questioned about the drone strike that killed a reported teenager, one senior advisor to President Obama stated, “he should have had a more responsible father.”
The Washington Post reported that it was JSOC rather than the CIA which carried out the attack: “When pressed on why the CIA had not pulled the trigger, US officials said it was because the main target…an Egyptian named Ibrahim al-Banna, was not on the agency’s kill list. The Awaki teenager, a US citizen with no history of involvement with al Qaeda, was an unintended casualty. In interviews, senior US officials acknowledged that the two kill lists don’t match, but offered conflicting explanations as to why.”
In April 2012 the Toronto Star featured an interview with Nasser al-Awalaki, grandfather of Abdel-Rahman and former Yemen government minister. In it he said that former Yemen President Saleh had sent him a message insisting that he had had no role in his grandson’s death: “Tell Dr. Nasser I swear to God that I have nothing to do with the killing of his son.” Nasser al-Awlaki also said he would be taking legal action: “I am only a university professor and I’m not the kind of guy who would enlist tribal people. My only chance now is to go to court and I hope as far as Abdulrahman at least, they will be fair to us. They cannot claim he’s collateral damage.”
In April 2013 Jeremy Scahill added further controversy to the attack, reporting: “A former senior official in the Obama administration told me that after Abdulrahman’s killing, the president was “surprised and upset and wanted an explanation.” The former official, who worked on the targeted killing program, said that according to intelligence and Special Operations officials, the target of the strike was al-Banna, the AQAP propagandist. “We had no idea the kid was there. We were told al-Banna was alone,” the former official told me. Once it became clear that the teenager had been killed, he added, military and intelligence officials asserted, “It was a mistake, a bad mistake.” However, John Brennan, at the time President Obama’s senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, “suspected that the kid had been killed intentionally and ordered a review. I don’t know what happened with the review.”‘
And in May 2013 US Attorney-General Eric Holder told US lawmakers Abdulrahman was “not specifically targeted by the United States”. In a letter, Holder explained Anwar al Awlaki was a legitimate target and that “[US] citizenship alone does not make such individuals immune from being targeted”. He said three other US citizens, including Abdulrahman, had been killed by US drones during Obama’s presidency.
The incident occured in the evening.