International

Al-Qaeda apologizes for Yemeni hospital attack

In a video message, Al-Qaeda says it warned fighters not to target hospital; attack was work of lone shooter

Smoke rises from the Defense Ministry's compound in Sanaa, Yemen after it was attacked on Dec. 5, 2013.
Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

Al-Qaeda's wing in Yemen blamed a renegade fighter for targeting medics and patients in a military hospital during its attack on the Defense Ministry compound in Sanaa earlier this month, it said in a statement released on Saturday.

"We do not fight in this way, and this not what we call on people to do, and this is not our approach," it said in the statement, adding it had warned its fighters not to attack the hospital.

The killing of unarmed medics and patients, captured on closed-circuit television footage and broadcast by state media, caused widespread outrage in Yemen, where Al-Qaeda has portrayed itself as fighting for normal people against foreign drone strikes.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) already claimed responsibility earlier this month for the Dec. 5 assault in which at least 52 people were killed, the worst such attack in Yemen for 18 months. The group attacked the compound because it believed it to house an operations room for drone attacks carried out by the United States against armed militants, which have also led to civilian deaths.

But AQAP’s military chief late Saturday said in an online video the assault on the hospital had not been authorized.

"The attack was on the ministry of defense, it was not on the hospital," said AQAP military commander Qassem al-Rimi.

Rimi said the militants were told to stay away from the hospital and a prayer hall in the sprawling defense ministry complex, but that one lone fighter disobeyed orders.

"We told them (militants) to be cautious, not to enter the prayer place or the hospital. Eight of our brothers were cautious, and one did not. May Allah forgive him and have mercy on him," said Rimi.

AQAP admits its mistake and offers "apologies and condolences" and accepts "full responsibility" for the attack, including the paying of blood money to compensate the families of the victims, Rimi said.

AQAP, which is considered by many in Washington as the most dangerous affiliate of Al-Qaeda, is also willing to pay for the medical treatment of civilians wounded in the hospital attack, he added.

The Washington-based think tank New America Foundation says there have been 93 strikes by drones since 2002 in Yemen, killing between 684 and 891 people, among them between 64 and 66 civilians.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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