Muhammad al-Qawli’s brother Ali and cousin Salim Jamil were killed in January 2013 by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. Muhammad has since reached out to other devastated families and launched the National Organisation of Drone Victims.
Ali Al-Qawli was a father of three and a primary school teacher whose students adored him. He was well-known in his village for his energetic personality and sharp sense of humour. Salim Jamil was a university student, who also ran a taxi service. He used the income from his small business to support his ill parents and siblings.
Ali and Salim were killed along with several other passengers when a missile from a U.S. drone hit their car on the evening of January 23, 2013. Muhammad has received neither an apology nor any compensation from the U.S. or Yemeni government, beyond a letter from the Yemeni Ministry of Interior two weeks after the strike, stating that Ali and Salim were innocent.
“My brother Ali was a primary school teacher. He was not a terrorist. He dedicated his life to children’s education.”
– Muhammad al-Qawli
After the strike, Muhammad rushed to the scene to find unimaginable bloodshed. The car was still on fire, and Muhammad recalls horrible hours working with other villagers to gather the victims’ body parts. They had to travel to another village to get enough water to put out the fire, which continued to burn.
They took the body parts they collected to the local hospital and planned the funerals for the following day. However, the next day, the bodies had disappeared, and they were told that government officials had taken them. Muhammad and his loved ones were outraged – it felt like the Yemeni government was trying to cover up a horrible crime in which it had been complicit. They organized a protest, and the next day the bodies were returned to the family for burial.
Since the attacks, Muhammad has reached out to other families of drone victims in Yemen, and has been shocked at the devastation that has been wreaked on families similar to his own. Many are left in abject poverty after the loss of the family breadwinner to drone strikes; in addition, children and adults alike are often severely traumatized by the experience of the strikes, and by the constant presence and noise of drones circling overhead.