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Yemeni man still looking for answers after White House drones meeting

Spencer Ackerman in Washington

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The wreckage of car destroyed by a US drone air strike in Azan in the south-eastern Yemeni province of Shabwa. Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters



Faisal bin Ali Jabar pleads for recognition of his brother and nephew's deaths from missiles fired from what he believes was a US drone

November 21, 2013

Staffers from the White House National Security Council met on Wednesday afternoon with a Yemeni environmental engineer who wants to know why his brother and nephew died from a drone strike.

Faisal bin Ali Jabar, a slender 55-year old with a bright white moustache, concluded a week in Washington with a long-desired meeting with White House officials, to plead for recognition of his brother and nephew's deaths in August 2012 from four missiles fired from what he believes was a US drone.

While neither he nor White House officials will talk about what specifically was said in the meeting or who attended, Jabar leaves, he said, without his questions answered. Why did his brother, an anti-al-Qaida preacher in the Yemeni town of Khashamir, and his traffic-policeman nephew, die?

"These people are taking me seriously," Jabar said through a translator in a Starbucks in south-west Washington hours before he flew back to Yemen.

"They've came all the way to listen to the story, although it's not clear what will happen next and what will happen after I leave the United States. But I felt ů "

His lawyer from the UK human rights group Reprieve stopped Jabar and his translator from finishing the sentence, citing the sensitivities of the meeting.

Jabar continued: "I felt the people who I met were nice and on the personal level maybe they feel sorry and apologetic, but there is nothing after that."

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden confirmed the meeting but provided no additional detail.

Jabar, an environmental engineer who now lives in Sanaa, said he had never seen or heard a drone before coming back to his Khashamir home for his son's wedding last August.

The next day, Jabar said his dinner was interrupted by the buzz of what he believes was the engine of a drone overhead. Villagers said they had been living under drones' patrols for the previous two months.

"I saw a flash of light," Jabar said, a thunderous sound, the path of a missile, and then "a very loud explosion".

The explosion was near a mosque where his brother, Salim, was preaching. Not long before, Jabar said, Salim had preached a sermon denouncing al-Qieda. Three unfamiliar men had just then driven up from an unknown village demanding to meet with Salim. Faisal bin Ali Jabar's nephew, a young traffic policeman, brokered a meeting with two of them while the third hung back.

Onlookers watched from the side of the mosque, wary of the strangers, while the four men spoke by a nearby palm tree.

That was where the first two missiles hit.

Faisal bin Ali Jabar did not see the strikes. He said his son-in-law was one of the onlookers, and is the source of much of his understanding of what happened. Their story cannot be independently confirmed.

But according to Jabar, the first two strikes came in rapid succession, so close together that people who rushed to help after the first strike didn't have time to reach the scene before the second missile struck, sending everyone scattering. A third hit the car. The fourth obliterated the man who had been hanging back.

While Jabar said it is possible the strikes were targeting the three suspicious-seeming strangers, he said he is disturbed by the lack of answers. He wrote an open letter to Barack Obama soon after seeking answers. His Washington visit was his follow-up when no reply came. For the past week, he has met with legislators like Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson and Washington Democrat James McGovern; staffers for the Senate judiciary and intelligence committees; and the activists of Code Pink, who helped with his visa.
"Everyone is living in complete horror," Jabar said when asked about how his Yemeni friends and neighbours feel about the drone strikes, launched by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command in Yemen.

Farea al-Muslimi, a 23-year old Yemeni journalist and activist who also met White House officials about the drones in April, said Jabar's "heart-breaking narrative" was well known in Yemen.

"His story is a clear example how the most benefits from drone strikes go to al-Qieda, actually," Muslimi said.

Since Jabar's relatives were killed, Obama publicly pledged to rein in the drone strikes that he has expanded and proliferated from tribal Pakistan to Yemen, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere, as well as to provide more transparency about them.

Jabar is willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt ľ up to a point.

"If any person said he's going to recognise and apologise for this strike, or for this event, or for a wrong policy, I would at the beginning believe him," Jabar said, "until I see his actions. And they will prove whether what he is saying was right or the opposite."





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