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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Yemeni family flees Houthis only to die in ISIL attack

Soldier tells harrowing story of how he tried to save a mother, daughter and son

Maged (L) poses with Hani bin Breik, vice president of the Southern Transitional Council. Ali Mahmood for The National
Maged (L) poses with Hani bin Breik, vice president of the Southern Transitional Council. Ali Mahmood for The National

Abdullah Ahmed Al Khulaidy's family thought they had reached safety when they arrived in Aden after fleeing fierce fighting in their home city of Taez, which Houthi rebels had taken over and turned into an all-out military base.

But just two months later, Abdullah's wife and two of the couple's three children were dead.

The day of their death began happily. Abdullah had taken his family to the beach in Aden's central Gold Moher area where they spent time playing, swimming and having a picnic, a neighbour of the family said.

"They took lots of photos [but] were not aware that those photos would be the last they took as a family," the neighbour, Mohammed, told The National.

After leaving the beach, the family went to get the bus home. Abdullah's wife waited at the bus stop – located across the road from a military base housing Aden's counterterrorism force – with the couple's eldest son, Elyas, 11, and their 14-year-old daughter, while Abdullah and their younger son, aged 8, went to a nearby shop to buy water.

The National
The National

It was then that a militant blew up a car outside the gate of the military base, just three metres from the bus stop. Abdullah's wife, his daughter and Elyas were all fatally injured.

In total, 14 people were killed in the twin suicide car bomb attack on Saturday last week, which also struck a checkpoint close to the headquarters of the secessionist Southern Transitional Council. The assault was later claimed by ISIL.

Soon after the attack, local news sites began posting video and photos taken by a bystander showing a soldier desperately trying to save Abdullah's wife, daughter and Elyas. His efforts came amid gunfire and explosions as his colleagues shot at two other militants wearing suicide belts who were trying to climb over the wall of the base. The militants engaged in a gun battle with the soldiers before eventually being shot dead.

The soldier who tried to save Abdullah's family, Maged Al Naqeeb, described to The National what happened.

"I was sitting near the military base with some friends when a very huge explosion erupted at the gate," said Maged, one of the soldiers who guards the Southern Transitional Council's headquarters. "Luckily, I wasn't harmed because we were sitting behind a concrete wall, so I rushed to see what had happened."

"I was shocked when I saw a lady with a smashed head and bleeding. She was trying to crawl. I tried to pick her up but her body was torn to pieces. Unfortunately she died almost immediately afterwards."

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Read more: Children among 14 dead in Yemen ISIL attack

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So fierce were the clashes between the militants trying to enter the base and soldiers there that Maged said he did not think he would survive.

"So I rushed to the daughter to rescue her but she was screaming, 'Please rescue my brother, he is dying'. So I left her and went to rescue her brother, but as I carried him to a corner of the street [away from the base], he took his last breath and unfortunately died," said Maged.

The soldier then ran back to Abdullah's daughter to try to save her.

"The daughter was severely bleeding; I took her to the same corner where I had put her brother's body. She was hysterically crying and calling for her Mum, saying 'Mum, my brother died', not knowing that her mother had already passed away," Maged said.

Maged said he tried to stop the daughter's bleeding but her wound was too big and she went into a coma just as an ambulance arrived on the scene.

He went with her in an ambulance to the hospital but "as soon as we arrived, the doctors told us that she had died", said Maged, tears running down his cheeks.

Abdullah and his youngest son survived the attack. But when his son saw the bodies of his mother, sister and brother at the hospital he collapsed due to the shock.

Video footage taken by an independent video journalist named Ahmed Al Tahtooh has since circulated on social media showing Abdullah at the hospital, crying hysterically.

Now, Yemenis are calling for Maged to be recognised for his bravery with a promotion. This is yet to materialise but on Wednesday he did receive honorary recognition from the Southern Transitional Council. The STC vice president, Hani bin Breik, expressed his appreciation for Maged's actions.

But for Maged, the only reward he would have wanted is for the family to have survived.

"I will keep remembering them for the rest of my life," he said.