War in Yemen: UAE pay for political assassinations

United Arab Emirates (UAE) don pay for politically-motivated assassinations for Yemen, one BBC investigate discover, making di conflict between di Yemen goment and different militant factions, wey recently return to di eyes of di international community, to become worse.

Di counter-terrorism training wey America mercenaries give Emirati officers for Yemen na im dem take train area pipo inside Yemen wey fit work low key – dis don make di political assassination to increase, one whistleblower tell BBC Arabic Investigations.

Di BBC don also find out say even though di American mercenaries say di purpose of di training na to eliminate jihadist groups al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) for southern Yemen, in fact, UAE don recruit former al-Qaeda members for one security force wey e create inside Yemen to fight di Houthi rebel movement plus oda armed factions.

UAE goment don deny di allegations for our investigation – say im bin assassinate pipo wey no get any link to terrorism – saying dem dey “false and witout merit”.

Di killing spree for Yemen – more dan 100 assassinations inside three-years – na just one element of di bitter internal conflict wey make several international powers dey fight against each oda for di Middle East poorest kontri.

Di deadly atmosphere don discourage di permanent return of Yemen goment wey di international community recognise.

Dis, one fit argue, don indirectly give di Houthis wey Iran dey back more ginja – wey currently dey news for attacking ships and preventing business for di Red Sea.

In recent days, Washington don announce say dey go declare di group once again as “global terrorists”.

I don dey report di conflict wey dey happpun for my native Yemen since e start for 2014.

Di fighting make di goment lose control of di north of di kontri to di Houthis – wey as years dey pass dey strong more more plus get beta equipment.

For 2015, US and UK support one partnership of mostly Arab states wey Saudi Arabia lead – wit UAE as major partner – to fight back. Di coalition invade Yemen wit di purpose of returning di goment wey go exile back to power and fighting terrorism.

Di UAE na im dem put in charge of security for south, and so im become US main man on counter-terrorism for di region – al-Qaeda don dey for di south for long and im bin dey gain territory.
Yemen conflict

For 2014, rebels wey dem know as Houthis, wey belong to one branch of Yemen minority Shia Muslim community wey seize di capital, Sanaa
President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi set up one temporary capital for one southern city of Aden afta e escape house arrest for Sanaa for February 2015
Saudi Arabia and eight oda, mostly Sunni Arab states begin one air campaign against di Houthis, wey dem claim say na dia rival Iran give dem weapon. Di Saudi-led coalition receive logistical support from US, UK and France
Groups wey supposedly dey on di same side dey fight each oda. For August 2019 fight begin for south between Saudi-backed government forces and one od dia pady southern separatist movement, di Southern Transitional Council (STC), wey accuse President Hadi of mismanagement and links to Islamists
Militants from al-Qaeda in di Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and di local group of rival Islamic State group (IS) don take advantage of di katakata to seize di territory for south and carry out deadly attacks, particularly for Aden
Di Houthis don also expand dia own circle of influence - for November 2023 dem begin carry out attacks on international shipping routes for Red Sea 

But instead of make dis establish more stability, during my frequent reporting trips dat time, I witness plenty mysterious targeted killings for di Yemen goment-controlled southern areas, of Yemen citizens wey no get any connection to di terror groups.

Under international law, any killing of civilians witout due process na extra-judicial killing.

Majority of di pipo wey dem assassinate na members of Islah – di Yemen branch of di Muslim Brotherhood.

Muslim Brotherhood na one popular international Sunni Islamist movement wey di US no ever declare as terrorist organisation, but dem ban am for several Arab kontris – including UAE wia di kontri royal famiy dey see im political activism and support for elections as threat to dia rule.

One drone video of di first assassination wey leak na im give me di starting point to begin investigate dis mysterious killings.

Di date na December 2015 and dem trace am to members of one private US security company wey dem call Spear Operations Group.

I finally meet one of di men behind di operation wey dem show for di video for one restaurant for London for 2020.

Isaac Gilmore, na former US Navy Seal wey later become chief operating officer of Spear, bin dey among di several Americans wey say dem hire dem to do assassinations inside Yemen by UAE.

Im no gree tok about anyone wey bin dey di “kill list” wey UAE give Spear – except for di target of dia first mission: Ansaf Mayo, one Yemeni MP wey be di leader of Islah for di southern port city of Aden, di goment temporary capital since 2015.

I confront Gilmore on di fact say US authorities no ever declare Islah as terrorist organisation.

“Modern conflicts unfortunately no dey dey very clear,” im tok. “We see dis for Yemen – one pesin civil leader and man of God, na anoda pesin terrorist leader.”

Gilmore, and anoda Spear employee for Yemen dat time – Dale Comstock – tell me say di mission wey dem go do end for 2016.

But assassinations for southern Yemen still dey kontinu.

In fact dem dey happun more now, according to investigators from di human rights group Reprieve.

Dem investigate 160 killings wey happun for Yemen between 2015 and 2018.

Dem say di majority of dem bin happun from 2016 and only 23 of di 160 pipo wey dem kill be terrorism. All di killings happun wit di same tactics wey Spear bin dey use – using improvised explosive device (IED) as distraction, followed by shooting di target.

Di most recent political assassination for Yemen, according to Yemen human rights lawyer Huda al-Sarari, happun just last month – of one imam wey dem kill for Lahj wit di same method.

Gilmore, Comstock, plus two oda mercenaries from Spear wey no want make we call dia dia name, say Spear bin follow train Emirati officers for di UAE military base for Aden.

One journalist wey prefer to remain anonymous also tell us say im don see one video of dat kain training.

Di mercenaries no gree give detail about wetin and wetin dey di training, but one senior Yemen military officer from Aden, wey work direct wit UAE, give me more details.

As who di mercenaries be make dem noticeable for Aden and pipo fit expose dem, dia orders bin change to training Emirati officers, “wey demsef train local Yemeni pipo to do di targeting”, di Yemen military officer tell me.

Throughout di investigation, we also speak to many more Yemen sources wey say na so e take happun.

Dem include two wey say say dem do assassination wey no get anytin to do wit terrorist, afta Emirati soldiers train dem to do so – and one man wey say dem offer to release am from one UAE prison in exchange for di assassination of one senior Yemen political figure, mission wey im no accept.

Getting Yemen pipo to do di assassinations mena say e dey harder for dem to trace di killings back to UAE.

By 2017, UAE bin help build one paramilitary force, part of di Emirati-funded Southern Transitional Council (STC), one security organisation wey dey run one network of armed groups across southern Yemen.

Di force bin dey operate for southern Yemen independent of Yemen goment, and bin dey only take order from UAE.

Dem bin no just train di fighters to fight on active front lines.

One particular unit, di elite Counter Terrorism Unit, bin get training to conduct assassinations, our whistleblower tell us.

Di whistleblower send one document wit 11 names of former al-Qaeda members wey dey now work for STC, some of dia identities we bin fit to confam by oursef.

During our investigation we also come across di name Nasser al-Shiba.

One time im bin be high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, dem jail am for terrorism but later release am.

One of Yemen goment minister wey we bin tok to tell us say dem bin sabi al-Shiba as one of di suspects for di attack of one US warship USS Cole, wey kill 17 American sailors for October 2000.

Many pipo tell us say now, im be di commander of one of di STC military units.

Lawyer Huda al-Sarari don dey torchlight human rights abuses wey di UAE-backed forces wey dey ground bin commit.

As a result of her work, dem dey threaten her almost all di time.

But na her 18-year-old son Mohsen wey pay di ultimate price.

Dem shoot am for chest for March 2019 as im bin dey go one local petrol station, and im die one month later.

Wen Huda return to work afta im die, she say she bin receive messages wey warn her to stop. “One son bin no dey enof? You want us to kill di oda?” dem ask.

More investigate by Aden goment lawyer find say na one member of di Counter Terrorism Unit wey UAE dey sponsor kill am, but di goment no ever follow di case.

Members of the prosecutor office – wey we no fit give im name for safety reasons – tell us say di widespread assassinations don create climate of fear, dat mean say even dem sef dey too afraid to pursue justice in cases wey involve di forces wey UAE dey back.

Reprieve don receive one UAE document wey leak, wey show say dem still dey pay Spear for 2020, though e no clear for which capacity.

We ask Spear founder, Abraham Golan, weda im mercenaries train Emirate soldiers in assassination techniques, but im no respond.

We put di allegations for our investigation give UAE goment.

E say na lie say e dey target individuals wey no get link wit terrorism, and say im dey support counter-terrorism operations for Yemenbase on di invitation of di goment of Yemen and im international allies.

“Di UAE don act in compliance wit applicable international law during dis operations,” im say.

We ask di US Department of Defense and di State Department to tok to us about Spear Operations Group, but dem no gree.

And di US government intelligence agency say for one statement: “Di idea say di CIA sign off dat kain operation na lie.”

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