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'Blood leads to blood': Deadly protests grip Aden after killing of child rape witness

Main witness in case where three members of UAE-backed Yemeni militia are accused of raping boy was killed earlier this month
The three accused men joined the fight against Houthis rebels in 2015 and were later integrated under the leadership of Yemen's army (Reuters)
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Sanaa

Scores of protesters have been taking to the streets of Aden city since 3 March demanding the arrest of the killers of the main witness in a child rape case.

Raafat Danbaa, who was testifying against three fellow members of the UAE-backed militia who are accused of raping a nine-year-old boy in May 2018, was abducted and killed by counterterrorism forces earlier this month. 

The protests escalated on Thursday, when demonstrators clashed with counterterrorism troops, killing one soldier and injuring another.

'His killers took him right in front of my eyes, outside the front door'

- Umm Rafaat, Danbaa's mother

The rape of the child in Aden's Al-Muaalah district last year led to protests in front of the Criminal Investigation offices, calling for the arrest of the acccused men.

Aden's authorities detained the accused militia members and put them on trial, with Danbaa appearing as the only witness.

Danbaa, who was not accused of taking part in the rape, and the three accused men had joined the fight against Houthis rebels in 2015 as fighters under the leadership of the Southern Resistance, and were then integrated under the leadership of Yemen's army.

'An entire armed unit grabbing one man'

On 3 March, a unit from the UAE-backed counterterrorism forces abducted Danbaa from his house in front of his mother and then shot him.

Speaking to the Qatari broadcaster Al Jazaeera, Danbaa's mother Umm Rafaat said: "His killers took him right in front of my eyes, outside the front door. They didn't even respect my presence.

"I was looking at them and I was crying, but they took him anyway... an entire armed unit grabbing one man.

"I call on the president to ensure they are brought to justice and that my son finally gets retribution."

Speaking to Middle East Eye, Dr Hiba Aidarous, the head of the Sawasia Organisation for Human Rights in Aden, said: "The killing of Raafat Danbaa, the lost witness, in the Al-Muaalah’s child rape crime means killing the strongest witness of the crime.

"The accused people tried to accuse Danbaa with attempting to kill one of the people accused of raping the child, but the court judged Danbaa innocent because there was not enough evidence."

The trial against the three militia men is continuing.

Tensions between UAE-backed forces and the government

Forces backed by the UAE are a major component of a Saudi-led coalition that has intervened in Yemen's civil war since 2015.

In June 2018, a month after the boy's rape, an Associated Press investigation found that UAE military officers and Yemeni guards ran several prison in southern Yemen, including Aden, where they tortured detainees, including with acts of sexual abuse.

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In August, the UN published a report entitled "Situation of human rights in Yemen, including violations and abuses since September 2014", which reported on acts performed by the Saudi and Emirati defence forces and their proxies up until June 2018.

That report detailed practices from the recruitment of child soldiers and the creation of torture prisons, to the random kidnappings of women and children who were sexually abused and sold.

Meanwhile, the killing of Danbaa has exposed the tensions between the government of Yemen's president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, and counterterrorism forces in Aden who are backed by the UAE.

Mukhtar al-Rahabi, an advisor to the minister of information, said via his Twitter account: "Killing the witness Raafat Danbaa by militias of Yusran al-Maqtari means that the rule of militias does not give any good thing but killing, destruction and ruination."

Maqtari is the leader of the UAE-backed counterterrorism militias in Aden.

In another tweet on 6 March, Rahabi said: "[The] assassination of Raafat Danbaa is a heinous crime committed by soldiers belonging to Yusran al-Maqtari. Till when silence will remain against those crimes, criminals and those who stand behind them?

"Free people have been demanding dissolution of militias of destruction which spread in Aden for years but no response. As long as those militias exist, the crimes and assassinations will spread."

Deadly protest

Protests after the killing of Danbaa saw demonstrators closing streets in Aden city, burning the flag of the UAE, and demanding the UAE leave Aden, which they accuse of supporting the militias which they say have destroyed Aden and the southern provinces.

On the afternoon of 7 March, protesters closed a main road in the Khour Maksar district of Aden, demanding the arrest and trial of the killers of Danbaa.

'The security leaders [are] supposed to protect citizens but in the reign of militias the security became the source of terror and worry'

Mukhtar al-Rahabi, an advisor to the minister of information

While the counterterrorism forces were trying to open the road by force, clashes broke out between them and the protesters.

Some protesters, armed with Kalashnikovs, killed a soldier named Qaisar Laqwar and injured another.

The UAE-backed forces in Aden are now demanding the arrest of Laqwar's killer.

The protests eventually forced Maqtari, the head of the UAE-backed counterterrorism forces, to hand over the leader of the militia members who allegedly killed Danbaa to an investigative committee which was formed by the interior ministry.

Brigadier Mohammed Mosaed, the interior ministry deputy and head of the investigative committee, said: "The committee extradited on Thursday night the leader of the division which killed the soldier Danbaa.

"We handed the criminal to the Criminal Investigation to complete the investigation and then bring the rest of the accused group," he added on the interior ministry website. 

'We are going to escalate until we arrest the killers'

However, the handing over of the alleged leader of the militia that killed Danbaa did not stop the protests, with demonstrators calling for the rest of the accused killers to be arrested.

Khalil Zain, one of the protesters, told MEE: "The security forces know the killers and they are soldiers in the counterterrorism forces, so they can subject them to trial and the protests will stop.

“However, the security forces in Aden work under the leadership of militia and they do not want to punish their colleagues, that is why we are going to escalate until we arrest the killers."

Zain said that not only friends and relatives of Danbaa took to the streets, but all people who support justice and want the killers brought to trial.

"When soldiers kill a witness in a child rape case, this means they encourage rape and killing and these are two crimes at the same time," Zaid said.

"We do not only want the leader of the division but we need all the killers to be subject to trial and the issue rapidly processed."

Meanwhile, on 8 March, Rahabi again took the opportunity to criticise Maqtari via his Twitter account: "The protests and demonstrations in Aden city forced Yusran al-Maqtari to announce that he will send the accused people to authorities.

"They [the UAE-backed leaders] tried to accuse the protesters of terrorism and other silly accusations but they could not control the anger of the street.

"The security leaders [are] supposed to protect citizens but in the reign of militias the security became the source of terror and worry."

While pro-Hadi officials like Rahabi and Anes Mansour, the assistant cultural attache in the Yemeni Embassy in Riyadh, are accusing the UAE-backed forces of creating chaos in Aden, pro-UAE residents and journalists accuse pro-Hadi officials of inciting people to create trouble.

Mukhtar al-Yafie, the editor-in-chief of the Aden 24 newspaper, said via his Twitter account: "Mukhtar Al-Rahabi, ... Anes Mansour, ... and many of the members of the Yemeni terrorism ministry [information ministry] incited on the terrorism act and chaos in the capital Aden.

"The martyr Qaisar is a victim of this terrorism act and we demand blood of the soldier Qaisar."

Blood leads to blood

Mohammed Sultan, a resident of Aden, told MEE that he attributed the main reason for the continuing chaos in Aden to the failure of the security forces and the judiciary.

"If there is a crime in Aden, the security forces and the judiciary delay it until it creates another crime and they are the only ones responsible for the insecurity in Aden," he said.

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"The crime of rape developed to the killing of the witness and the killing of the witness led to the killing of a soldier, and maybe there will be more crimes in the same series while the original crime of rape was not solved yet."

Sultan said that Aden's residents do not need anything more than safety and called on the UN to intervene to protect Aden and other southern provinces from militias.

"The UAE-backed militias do not allow either the judiciary nor the authorities to do their job, so we can see many issues have not been solved yet," he said.

"Blood leads to blood so I hope that residents in Aden can be wise enough and try to solve their disputes peacefully."