Yemeni medics said on Monday they pulled dozens of bodies from the rubble of a Houthi rebel-run detention center that was hit a day earlier by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, killing over 100 people and wounding dozens.
It was the deadliest such attack so far this year in a stalemated four-year war that’s claimed tens of thousands of lives, thrust millions to the brink of famine and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The Saudi-led coalition, which has fought the Iran-backed Houthis since 2015, has faced international criticism for airstrikes that have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, killing thousands of civilians.
By the early afternoon, 86 bodies had been pulled from the ruins of a building complex in southwestern Dhamar province, originally a college but converted by the Houthi rebels to a detention center, Yemen’s Red Crescent said.
There were around 170 detainees at the facility when the airstrikes hit on Sunday. The International Committee for the Red Cross said 40 wounded were being treated for injuries while the rest were presumed dead, and that it would likely take days to recover all the bodies. The facility was part of the local community college before the Houthis turned it into a detention center, one of dozens in areas under their control.
The Houthis said the detainees were captured forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government, and that both the Red Cross and the coalition knew detainees were being held there.
The Red Cross, which inspects detention centers as part of its global mission, said Sunday it had previously visited detainees at the site.
Col. Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said in a televised press conference Monday it had bombed a “legitimate military target,” and blamed the Houthis for using the former college as a detention center for Yemenis who were forcibly disappeared.
He said the Red Cross never told the coalition that there were detainees at the site, which he said was not on a U.N.-coordinated no-strike list. The U.N. provides the coalition with coordinates for locations such as hospitals, schools and official prisons to ensure they are not hit by airstrikes.
“The only known prion (in the area) is located 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of the targeted site,” he said.
Former detainee Mansour al-Zelai told The Associated Press that the Houthis were repairing weapons in and close to the detention center.