The bodies lie lifeless next to each other, shouts go wild: according to the Houthi rebels, at least 78 people died in a mass panic in Yemen. The director of the health authority in the capital Sanaa, Mutahar al-Maruni, told the rebel-affiliated television station Al-Masirah on Thursday night. Among the dead were women and children. At least 322 people were injured in the riot, according to a rebel security official. According to the Houthis, there was a deadly scramble to distribute donations late in the evening.
According to the Saba news agency operated by the Houthis, a spokesman for the local interior ministry said some traders had "arbitrarily" distributed monetary donations without prior coordination. Then panic broke out.
Eyewitnesses described to the news site "Al-Masdar" how shots could be heard at times. This and an explosion after a short circuit is said to have increased the panic and finally led to the crowd. Hundreds had previously gathered at a school to receive monetary donations from a well-known dealer. Some local media reported that the Houthis fired the shots.
In videos intended to show the scenes after the incident, numerous bodies were lined up on the ground. A video showed dozens of people crowding into a confined space while screaming loudly, some seeming to literally drown in the crowd. The tragedy happened during the ongoing Muslim month of fasting, a few days before the Islamic festival of Aid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
The head of the High Political Council, Mahdi al-Maschat, called for an investigation into the incident. A committee designated for this purpose arrived at the scene of the incident that evening, according to a Saba report. Two suspected dealers were arrested. The Houthi Interior Ministry accused them of distributing the money without coordinating with the ministry.
According to an AFP reporter, the scene of the accident was cordoned off by security forces. They denied people entry to the school where they wanted to look for their relatives. Videos posted online showed bodies lying on the floor of a large complex of buildings while people screamed around them. However, AFP could not independently verify the authenticity of the recordings.
Yemen is located in the south of the Arabian Peninsula. The Shiite Houthi rebels have taken over large parts of northern Yemen there in their uprising that has been going on since 2014 and also control the capital Sanaa. The rebels are supported by Shia-majority Iran. Saudi Arabia has been fighting the Houthis with allies alongside the government in the country since 2015.
One of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world is taking place in Yemen, mainly due to the consequences of the civil war. About 21 million people are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance and protection.