THE bombs which the Saudi air force used to kill more than 150 civilians in Yemen last week were targeted by guidance
systems made in Scotland. The 500lb bombs, which hit a funeral party on Saturday, are claimed to be Paveway IVs, made by US arms firm Raytheon. The laser guidance systems are solely made at the company’s factory in Glenrothes.
Both Britain and the United States are supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia and backing its military support of the Yemeni government which is battling Houthi rebels. Since the start of the civil war in 2015, Britain has licensed more than £3.3 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The death toll at the funeral hall in Sana’a led the US to announce an “immediate review” of American support for the Saudi-led coalition, warning: “US security co-operation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank cheque.” However, while the UK government responded saying that the carnage caused by the strike was “shocking” it did not result in any equivalent review of support for the Saudi-led coalition. Indeed UK Defence Minister Liam Fox is expected to visit Riyadh this month as part of the negotiations to sell a new fleet of fighter jets to the Saudi monarchy.
Thousands of people had gathered at the funeral of Sheikh Ali al-Rawishan, father of the rebel-appointed interior minister, when the bombs hit. The strike appears to be a “double tap”, so called when a target is bombed and then hit again minutes later to kill the first responders rushing to the scene to help. Britain has warned that “double tap” attacks carried out by Russia and the Syrian regime in Syria may be a war crime.
The US government, unlike the British, is concerned it could be implicated in potential war crimes in Yemen because of its support for the Saudi-led coalition air campaign. Official documents show government lawyers advised the US might be considered a co-belligerent under international law.
The Saudi air force flies British-made BAE Tornados and Eurofighter Typhoons, as well as American F-15s, and has twice as many war planes available for its bombing campaign in Yemen than the RAF has at its entire disposal. It is not yet clear which planes delivered the
deadly loads which also injured over 500.
In the last three months, Saudi-led forces have been accused of attacking a food factory killing 14; a school, killing 10, including children; and a Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital, killing 11.
A report by Human Rights Watch detailed 13 attacks in Yemen which killed 130 civilians, describing them as “war crimes”. In these cases, investigators say, remnants of the bombs revealed at least one case of a “Mk-82 500lb bomb with a UK-manufactured Paveway laser guidance kit”.
Some 10,000 people – more than half of them civilians – have been killed in Yemen since March 2015. At least 934 children have been killed and another 1,356 injured, according to Unicef.
The fighting has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe. More than 2.5 million people have been displaced, millions more have been left without access to clean water or electricity, and 80 per cent have been left in need of aid. Britain has called for an investigation into Saturday’s airstrike but said it was comfortable with the Saudi military investigating its own forces, despite concerns raised by human rights groups.
Tory Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt has admitted that over 150 Britons are working “to support Saudi Arabia” in response to a question on the Yemeni conflict. An undisclosed number of British “liaison personnel” are working at the “Saudi and coalition air and maritime headquarters”. Britain has “received assurances from the Saudis that they are complying with international humanitarian law and we continue to engage with them on those assurances”.
In July last year, Raytheon moved its entire production of UK weapons manufacturing to Scotland, where the guidance systems for the Paveway IVs used in the Yemen attack are made. Andrew Smith, of the Campaign Against The Arms Trade (CAAT), said: “The UK has an obligation to ensure [arms sold to Saudi] are not violating international law.” He criticised Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for his criticism of Russia’s action in Syria,“while he hasn’t even come close to condemning Saudi bombing”. Smith also accused the UK of “putting the profits of the arms companies ahead of the people of Yemen.”
UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are currently subject to a judicial review, following an application by CAAT which is calling on the government to suspend all existing licences and stop further arms exports for use in Yemen while it holds a full review into whether the exports are legal. A hearing will take place in January. Raytheon did not respond to requests for comment.