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US cluster bombs in Yemen: The right weapon in Al Qaeda fight?

A June 7 report from Amnesty International offers photographs of US-made cluster bombs that it says were used in a December attack against suspected Al Qaeda members.

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An Amnesty International report released today has found that US weapons were involved in a December attack on suspected Al Qaeda members in Yemen.

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The findings, which confirm what many analysts have long suspected, could quiet American fears that the US hasn't been active enough in cracking down on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which claimed responsibility for the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest airliner. But the assertion of US involvement also could give Yemen-based militants a powerful new recruiting tool.

Just as high civilian casualties in US attacks on militants have fed extremism in Iraq and Afghanistan, the same phenomenon is now playing out in Yemen, says Yemen specialist Gregory Johnsen.

“It is incredibly dangerous what the US is trying to do in Yemen at the moment because it really fits into AQAP’s broader strategy, in which it says Yemen is not different from Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Mr. Johnsen of Princeton University in New Jersey, who adds that AQAP can recruit militants from outside Yemen as well. “They are able to make the argument that Yemen is a legitimate front for jihad… They’ve been making that argument since 2007, but incidents like this are all sort of fodder for their argument.”

Yemen claims Amnesty photos invalid

The June 7 Amnesty report offers photographs of the wreckage of what it said were US-made cruise missiles and an unexploded cluster bomblet that were allegedly used during an attack on an Al Qaeda hideout in Abyan, a remote area of southern Yemen, in December. Amnesty said the photos were taken immediately following the attack, which killed 35 women and children as well as 14 militants just a week before the Christmas Day underwear bomber tried to carry out his mission.

“A military strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt to detain them is at the very least unlawful,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme in the report. “The fact that so many of the victims were actually women and children indicates that the attack was in fact grossly irresponsible, particularly given the likely use of cluster munitions.”