Monday, March 4, 2024

UAE recruited al-Qaeda militants to carry out assassinations in Yemen: Report

A new BBC investigation has found that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has recruited former Al-Qaeda members "to provide security" in Yemen, and funded American mercenaries to carry out political assassinations in the war-torn country.

In the report, which was detailed in a documentary released on Monday, a whistleblower told the BBC that former members of militant group al-Qaeda – which has long had a presence in south Yemen – were in fact hired to work with the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) in a security capacity.

The whistleblower provided the names of 11 former al-Qaeda members allegedly working with the STC.

The documentary shows leaked court documents that reveal that an al-Qaeda member said he was offered release from prison by UAE officers in exchange for carrying out assassinations.

Nasser al-Shiba, a former high-ranking al-Qaeda operative suspected of involvement in an attack on the US warship USS Cole, which killed 17 Americans in 2000, was also now working with one of the STC’s military units, sources told the BBC.

The report also includes testimonies from two employees of US security company Spear Operations Group, who said they were hired by the UAE to conduct targeted killings in Yemen.

Aidarus al-Zubaidi, the head of the STC, has denied the claims of al-Qaeda involvement in its military forces.

A probe by Buzzfeed previously revealed in 2018 that the UAE had hired the mercenaries to assassinate prominent members of al-Islah, the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

That report included leaked drone footage of a failed attempt in December 2015 to kill al-Islah’s Anssaf Ali Mayo and everyone in his office.

In the BBC documentary, former US Navy Seal and Spear operative, Isaac Gilmore admitted that Mayo was among names on a “kill list”.

“Modern conflicts are unfortunately very opaque,” he stated, adding, “We see this in Yemen – one person’s civil leader and cleric, is another person’s terrorist leader.”

The deal between Spear and the UAE was struck in Abu Dhabi during a meeting that included Israeli-Hungarian founder of Spear Abraham Golan, as well as Mohammed Dahlan, an exiled former Palestinian politician, who has since become an adviser to Emirati President Mohammed bin Zayed.

A photograph of Gilmore, Golan and Dahlan was published in Buzzfeed’s 2018 report.

While the UAE is among several countries to have labelled the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates in the region as terrorist organisations, the movement is not proscribed by the United States government.

The attempted assassination of Mayo began a spate of targeted killings in Yemen between 2015 and 2018, during which time human rights organisation Reprieve investigated 160 killings.

Reprieve found that only 23 of those killed had links to terror organisations.

“The UAE is willing to destroy the whole country and bring mercenaries from around the world to annihilate al-Islah,” Mohammed Abdulwadood, a member of the party in Taiz, told Middle East Eye in 2018.

“The UAE is cunning but God does not help the cunning to succeed.”

Huda al-Sarari, a lawyer who has investigated rights abuses by UAE-backed groups in Yemen, told the BBC that she had frequently received death threats for her work.

Sarari’s son was killed in 2019, in a shooting that Aden’s public prosecutor found was carried out by a member of the Emirati-backed counter-terrorism unit in southern Yemen. To date, no one has been prosecuted over the killing.

The UAE government has denied that it had targeted individuals not connected to terrorism, and announced its counter-terrorism activities were conducted at the invitation of Yemen’s internationally recognised government.

Islah and the UAE had previously been working on the same side of Yemen’s war since 2015 against the Houthis, officially known as Ansar Allah.

However, the relationship soured considerably and in October 2017, clashes broke out in Aden between Islah’s and Emirati proxy militias.

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