Child or militant? 6th-grader killed in US drone strike in Yemen (VIDEO)

Mohammed Saleh Qayed Taeiman (R) poses for a photo with his younger brother outside their family's house in Marib province, Yemen  in this October 29, 2013 photo. (Reuters/Faroq al-Shaarani)
Relatives describe Mohammed as a joyful 12 year old, enjoying school. When he was killed in the latest drone strike in Yemen, authorities listed him as a 'militant'. The family previously lost Mohammed's father and brother in a similar attack.

Mohammed Saleh Qayed Taeiman had been among the three killed in the drone strike last week, according to the Yemeni National Organization for Drone Victims (NODV). It also said that previous US drone strikes had killed Mohammed’s father and his brother in 2011, and in a separate attack, another brother had been injured.

They are among the 424 Yemeni people, 8 of whom are children, who have been killed since drone strikes began in the region in 2002, according to a a recentreportbythe Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

NODV said that one of the other victims was a farm worker named Abdallah Khaled Aziz al-Zindani , married to a woman from the Taeiman family, which was due to meet with other families in the area to discuss their response to the US drone strikes.

Yemeni officials initially said that three men believed to have been Al-Qaeda militants were killed in a car traveling to Ma’rib province. A tribal leader told Reuters that Taeiman had been an Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militant.

Mohammed’s cousin Hussein Taeiman, in Cairo spoke exclusively to RT. RT host Ben Swann asked him whether Mohammed was a militant.

No, no, no he’s a child. Mohammed was like any child, he was studying in school and staying in house,” said Taeiman. “He was like any kid. His father was killed about four years ago. He was eight then and didn’t understand. He lost his father’s love and upbringing but didn’t have vengeful feelings. He was just a child. Mohammed was very joyful. The happiest kid in the village.”

He was murdered by US drones for no reason...he was in sixth grade in primary school. What would he do? No one had a legal justification to get him killed.”

READ MORE: Yemeni Al-Qaeda says France replaced US as ‘main enemy of Islam’

Drones strikes in the region are carried out by the CIA as part of its counterterrorism operation and by the Pentagon as part of its secretive special forces outfit – Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). This was the first strike since the beginning of the year.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) compiles data on military strikes. Included in the data are separate casualty counts for combatants, civilians and children.

The first US strike in Yemen was on November 3, 2002 – an isolated operation under the Bush Administration. The next strike didn’t happen again until May 5, 2011 – under the Obama Administration.

Since 2011 there have been at least 103 confirmed US targeted killing operations, 88 of which have been carried out with drones, according to BIJ. Fifteen of the strikes fall into other categories, such as cruise missile strikes and special forces ground raids.

READ MORE: US lacks intelligence to continue waging indiscriminate drone warfare in Yemen

BIJ said these confirmed strikes have killed at least 580 people, 424 of whom were hit by drones. Of those deaths, 131 were civilians, 65 of whom were killed by drones.

The number of children who have died in these attacks now totals 34, since Mondays attack. Eight have been killed by drones and 26 by other methods. The Bureau said there have been another 70 unconfirmed drones strikes which could potentially add 304 people, six of whom may have been children.

Victims of American drone [strikes] are far more than 500…about 540. Yemenis see...a violation of their country’s sovereignty with no legal or legitimate justification. Even a wedding [was subject to a drone strike]...where more than 10 people were killed,” Taeiman told RT.

One of the most controversial strikes was when 12 civilians were killed and 15 others wounded in December 2013, when a drone targeted vehicles that were part of a wedding procession going towards the groom’s village outside the western city of Rad’a. Human Rights Watch said “some, if not all of those killed and wounded were civilians.”

READ MORE: Drone strike kills 15 'wedding party-goers' in Yemen

Over the past 25 years the Sanaa-based government and the Houthis have fought several bloody wars for dominance. The current tensions are the result of the 2011 popular protest that sought an end to the 30-year rule of kleptocratic dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The Houthis, a Shiite group has alleged ties to Iran – an archrival of Saudi Arabia – have swept through Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, penetrating key government institutions and military installations. Houthis inhabiting north of Yemen represent the Shia minority in the country, whereas majority Sunni Muslims live in the south of Yemen.

Last month the Houthis overtook the capital, Sanaa, after several days of clashes and ousted the Yemeni president from office. The US State Department evacuated most of its personnel and closed the American embassy to the public over security concerns. Houthis are believed to be equally hostile towards both the US drone attacks and Al-Qaeda.

READ MORE: Yemeni president resigns after standoff with Shia rebels