Russians die "in battle" as rival religious factions clash in Yemen

Text of report by privately owned Russian television channel REN TV on 21 December

[Presenter] Russians are fighting in Yemen, we can now say openly. The Foreign Ministry today confirmed the deaths of four citizens of our country in the Middle East. They did not just die but were killed in battle with weapons in their hands. What prompted the radicals to go to war? Dmitriy Takhov has been finding out.

[Correspondent] Diplomats and investigators will probably establish their identities, but so far we know little. In the north of Yemen, in the town of Dammaj, there was a clash between Sunnis and Shias and four students from Russia perished.

[Abdurakhman, Russian student at Dar-al-Hadith religious centre, by telephone] There were four of them, four of them killed, from Russia. One was from Stavropol, one from Ufa I think, one from Tatarstan and one from Saransk.

[Correspondent] This guy is also a student at the Islamic school, who studied with the Russians. He’s currently in Dammaj and asked for his surname not to be given. He said it all began on Saturday [17 December] when the school suddenly came under fire from Shias. Not unrest, or riot, but war.

[Abdurakhman] They started using mortars, heavy weapons, 120-calibre. Then they started using tanks.

[Correspondent] The province where the Islamic school is, Dar-al-Hadith, is one of the poorest in Yemen, already a poor country. The fighting here began quite recently, about a month ago, and apparently has nothing to do with the Arab revolutions. There are no opponents or supporters of the authorities here. It is a pitched religious battle. After Saturday’s fire from Shias, teachers at the school – Sunnis – declared jihad. That was when the four students from Russia died, taking part.

[Abdurakhman] They all died in battle. We had two or three people killed, including one Russian. Three Russians were killed in another fight, when we were attacking, that is, students from Russia.

[Correspondent] How did students from Russia get mixed up in this and what were they being taught at the Islamic school? It’s hard to say. Abdurakhman stressed that this is not Al-Qa’idah and they are not fighters. But he also said the students had not much ammunition left.

[Abdurakhman] We’ve got enough for defence. To be honest, we don’t have enough for an offensive. But enough to defend ourselves.

[Correspondent] According to the Foreign Ministry there are 30-40 students from Russia at the school. About 1,000 foreign nationals in total. Nobody knows exactly how many.

[Foreign Ministry official spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich, by telephone] The students arrived in Yemen illegally, bypassing the rules for leaving the Russian Federation. They had no contact with the Russian embassy or consulate.

[Correspondent] It is hard to say how many such students are in Yemen but Muslims from Russia are frequently to be found in volatile parts of the Middle East. How many Russians got to Tahrir Square in Egypt semi-legally and where are they now?

[Geydar Dzhemal, chairman, Islamic Committee of Russia] They have varying fates. I think some of them could quite possibly have gone to Yemen.

[Correspondent] While diplomats in Russia consider what to do about the besieged students in Yemen, others are fundraising on their behalf on a social network. Whether the money will go on tickets home or on ammunition, of which they are so short, is unclear.

[Video from 1540 to 1543 gmt shows stock footage of military operations in desert landscape, captioned Yemen]

Source: REN TV, Moscow, in Russian 1530 gmt 21 Dec 11

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