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Yemeni at U.S. hearing describes drone strike on his village

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Yemeni man told a Senate hearing on Tuesday about a U.S. drone strike on his village last week that he said turned residents against America.

In an emotion-filled voice, Farea Al-Muslimi, a writer, described his shock at the drone attack and the blowback in public opinion from residents against the United States.

His comments stood out among the debate over the legal aspects of President Barack Obama's drone policies at a rare public hearing on the topic held by a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, titled: "Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing."

Obama has promised more transparency about the program as lawmakers increasingly demand the administration reveal its legal justifications for killing terrorism suspect overseas who are U.S. citizens. Drone strikes have also increased tensions among local populations in countries like Pakistan where the United States conducts them in the tribal regions.

A committee aide said Al-Muslimi was already to have testified at the hearing when it was scheduled a week ago. But the hearing was postponed as the panel hoped the administration would send an official to testify, but that did not happen.

In the intervening week, an al Qaeda leader and four militants were killed in a U.S. drone strike in the town of Wessab in Dhamar province south of the capital Sanaa, a Yemeni official said.

"Most of the world has never heard of Wessab. But just six days ago, my village was struck by a drone, in an attack that terrified thousands of simple, poor farmers," Al-Muslimi said.

"The drone strike and its impact tore my heart, much as the tragic bombings in Boston last week tore your hearts and also mine."

In his youth, Al-Muslimi was awarded a State Department scholarship to an exchange program that aimed to build understanding between Americans and Muslim countries and lived for a year with an American family in California, he said.

"As I was thinking about my testimony and preparing to travel to the United States to participate in this hearing, I learned that a missile from a U.S. drone had struck the village where I was raised," he said.

"Ironically, I was sitting with a group of American diplomats in Sanaa at a farewell dinner for a dear American friend when the strike happened."

He said the target of the strike was known to many in the village and Yemeni officials could easily have arrested him.

"The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis. If America is providing economic, social and humanitarian assistance to Yemen, the vast majority of the Yemeni people know nothing about it," he said.

"Everyone in Yemen, however, knows about America and its drones." Al-Muslimi said that allows the Yemen-based al Qaeda affiliate to "convince more individuals that America is at war with Yemen."

Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation, which keeps a tally of U.S. drone strikes, testified at the same hearing that in 2012 Obama authorized at least 46 drone strikes in Yemen, while former President George W. Bush launched only one there.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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