Skip to main content

Al Qaeda: We're sorry about Yemen hospital attack

By Yousuf Basil and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 6:52 PM EST, Sun December 22, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula apologizes for a hospital attack
  • "We offer our apologies and condolences to the families of the victims," he says
  • CNN's Bergen: It's unusual to see "such a direct, fast, public apology"
  • Yemen's government had released surveillance footage of the deadly attack

(CNN) -- It's something you don't often hear from the leaders of a terrorist group known for violence: We're sorry.

But that's just what the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said in a video message Sunday, apologizing for a hospital attack in Sanaa earlier this month that left dozens of people dead.

The attackers were directed not to assault the hospital or mosque in an attack against a Yemeni Ministry of Defense compound on December 5, but one fighter made a mistake and attacked the hospital, leader Qassim Al-Raimi says in the video.

"We confess to this mistake and fault. We offer our apologies and condolences to the families of the victims," Raimi said in the video, which was published by al Qaeda media outlet Al-Malahim. "We did not want your lost ones; we did not target them on purpose. This is not of our religion or our morals."

Footage shows Yemen gunman open fire

It's unusual to see "such a direct, fast, public apology" from al Qaeda, CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen said.

"Al Qaeda leaders seem to be waking up to the fact that if they position themselves as the defenders of Muslims, their large-scale killing of Muslim civilians needs to stop," Bergen said.

The apology comes after Yemeni government officials released surveillance video showing the hospital under attack.

The surveillance footage showed patients nervously looking out of the hospital windows, then running after an explosion.

In another clip, patients and staff huddle in a hallway. They watch as an attacker walks calmly toward them, activates an explosive and lobs it in their direction.

"We saw what the Yemeni channel broadcast: a gunman entering a hospital . ... We did not order him to do so, and we are not pleased with what he did," Raimi said. "Moreover, it wronged us and pained us, because we do not fight in this manner."

The U.S. government has designated al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as a foreign terrorist organization and says the group has orchestrated "numerous high-profile terrorist attacks."

Sunday's apology, though rare, isn't the first time al Qaeda or its affiliates have apologized.

In November, Syrian rebels with al Qaeda ties apologized for mistakenly beheading a wounded rebel fighter after assuming he supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In 2009, an al Qaeda spokesman released a video message offering condolences to "unintended Muslim victims" killed in attacks.

And in 2007, Bergen said, former al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden said that Muslim victims killed by al Qaeda in Iraq "are not the intended targets."

Behind the scenes, Bergen said, leaders of the group have expressed concerns about the impact such attacks would have on the group's reputation.

"We know from the documents recovered at the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad by U.S. Navy SEALS in May 2011, al Qaeda's leaders were often writing to each other privately and also to groups they are associated with about the need to minimize civilian (Muslim) casualties and often wrote about the damage to the al Qaeda brand that killing civilians had achieved by al Qaeda operations in Iraq," Bergen said. "But the straightforward public apology ... is a new development."

In Sunday's message, Raimi said the group would financially compensate families of victims in the hospital attack.

But the militant leader also stressed that the group's fighters wouldn't shy away from going after targets that have ties to American drones. That's why they hit the Defense Ministry compound that day, he said.

Since the attack, Yemeni government officials have repeatedly stated there are no drone operations based at the compound.

Raimi said places that help American drones by spying, providing information or offering intelligence are legitimate targets.

"We have a long list of these places. In case they continue, we will continue. We will reach them, because we defend ourselves," he said. "We made a mistake. We accept responsibility and we are continuing with our Jihad."

CNN's Atika Shubert and Mohammed Jamjoom contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Hamas' tactics have changed -- now the group is using commando-like tactics, says CNN's Ben Wedeman.
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
updated 5:51 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
A nun, an AIDS researcher, an athlete and a family traveling on summer vacation. These were some of the victims aboard MH17.
updated 8:21 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Prince George isn't your average one year old. He started walking before he was one. Oh, and, he's going to be king -- of 16 countries.
updated 7:36 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Former President Bill Clinton acknowledges he got "very close" to helping achieve peace in the Middle East.
updated 2:21 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
In an ambitious plan to upgrade urban India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he will build 100 "smart cities" across the country.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Inspirational, creepy or just weird? CNN meets the 51-year-old man who dresses like a schoolgirl.
updated 7:00 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A British nanotech company has created what it says is the world's darkest material.
updated 7:12 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Yoga, meditation and watching a snake eat a frog alive: these are some of the experiences to be had at this Himalayan yoga retreat.
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
The world's largest flying aquatic insect, with huge, nightmarish pincers, has been discovered in China's Sichuan province, experts say.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT