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Yemen: Did Government Use Nerve Gas on Protesters? (Videos)

This post is part of our special coverage Yemen Protests 2011.

Tweeps, reporters and netizens are investigating the possibility that Yemen's security forces may have used nerve gas when they attacked protesters on Tuesday, March 8. The attack, which government later said was to prohibit Yemeni tribesman from bringing weapons to the student sit-in protesters who have gathered near Sanaa University calling for the resignation of long-serving leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.

One protester reportedly died in that attack, and up to 70 were injured. Protesters say that security forces also used what they thought was tear gas to disperse the crowd. However, a few doctors treating the injured said they had never seen these symptoms with people affected by tear gas, including convulsions, loosing muscular control and even paralysis.

Here's a tweet from local reporter Jeb Boone:

@JebBoone: Tear gas said to be odorless. Gas used in #Yemen demos smelled of sulfur, similar when after a gun fires, what I initially thought it was.

And from reporter Iona Craig, who was present at the hospital with injured protesters.

@ionacraig: I'm no chemicals expert but symptoms last night did not inc. eye & skin irritation like teargas. Ppl just passed out after trouble breathing

The Chemical Weapons Convention outlaws the production, stockpoling and use of various chemical weapons, including nerve agents. Presently, 165 countries have signed the United Nation's convention including Yemen, which ratified it in 2000.

Oliver Holmes, a freelance reporter based in Yemen, provided a video of a grenade found at the scene:

He asked via Twitter:

@olireports: Can anyone confirm whether a green rubber Smith & Wesson gas grenade is illegal. Is it teargas or nerve gas? @YF @Yemen

Holmes then reported:

@olireports: The grenades I saw were not nerve gas. #YF #Yemen

Here's a video of more of the ammunition found after the March 8 attacks.

A Tweep responds:

@Dmangoman: @kasinof the round canister normally contains standard tear gas; CS or CN;unless the canisters have been manipulated or are counterfeit

This is not the first time Yemen's government has been accused of using nerve gas. In 2005, reporter Jane Novak published claims from people on the ground that the country's military may have used nerve gas to quash the Houthis rebellion in Sahdaa.

Highly respected religious scholar Mohamed Almansour wrote a letter to President Saleh in March 2005 which stated, “We condemn all things that happened in the previous months such as excessive use of force by the Government forces and the use of internationally prohibited weapons.” In May, Alquds Alarabia reported that rebel leader Abdelmalik al-Houthi said, “The government attacked us with internationally prohibited weapons like chlorine gas that caused an inability to breathe.” He also referred to “colored gas.” An article in the opposition newspaper al-Shoura in June listed the names of imprisoned children, including Bader Aldeen Abdula Moslih who was described as “12 years old, very ill from nervous system and skin damage as a result of chlorine gas used by the army in the first war last year.” In an internet interview the same month, a Houthi partisan and purported eye witness described “some special missile which turns into many particles, yellow and then red. The cloud goes up slowly. When it explodes it is yellow, when the particles come down they are red.” The cloud caused an inability to breathe, he reported.

Yahya al-Houthi, former Member of Parliament in the ruling party and brother of slain rebel leader Hussain al-Houthi, wrote in an email: “Most of the injured persons have died especially those who were hiding in Suleiman Cave. They were exposed to chemical gas…The area surrounding Suleiman Cave is still closed by the Army to prevent any one from taking samples to be analyzed by chemical weapon experts. The Army also burned all bodies in that area so they don’t leave any evidence for the international community.

In lengthy reports on the conflict, neither the International Crisis Group or IRIN mentioned these assertions.

Some Tweeps continue the claim of government use of some gas agent on Tuesday night.

@alguneid: @WomanfromYemen #saleh ,son&nephew troops used low level nerve gas.Causes cerebral oedema (water inside brain cells).Coma–>death #War crime

Other Tweeps find it difficult to sort out the facts.

@JebBoone: Gas used in #Yemen also may have been CR gas, riot control gas stronger than tear gas. Has a pepper odor.

@ionacraig: Four people ended up in ICU with brain edema from the gas last night, according to doctor. #yemen #yf #sanaa

@CarvajalF: #Yemen – friend frm SciTech Univ in Sanaa still didnt confirm use of nerve gas @ Sanaa Univ – getting mixed comments frm ppl -

@prince640: @CarvajalF There might be other agents with some of the same effects? #Yemen

@Dirk2112: RT @joshuafoust: http://t.co/Ct40njU “nerve gas” thing reeks of rumor and exaggeration. I suggest deep caution before believing. #yf #Yemen

@theriverfed: I hope the ICC is paying attention. RT @leloveluck Doctors in #Yemen say nerve gas used on protesters: http://t.co/Ct40njU

@CFKlebergTT: Source in #Yemen told me about use of nerve gas. HRW can't confirm or deny. More in a bit…

This post is part of our special coverage Yemen Protests 2011.

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