Why al-Qaeda informant’s testimony matters

While collusion between Saleh regime and al-Qaeda has long been suspected, Hani Mujahid names top official as key link.

Al-Qaeda operative in Yemen
The reliability of Mujahid's testimony in "Al-Qaeda Informant" may depend upon his own integrity [File]

The most damning piece of testimony from al-Qaeda informant Hani Mujahid is his claim that on three occasions he warned the deputy chief of a US-funded Yemeni security agency of an impending attack on the US embassy in Sanaa, which the authorities did not act to prevent.

Mujahid says he reported biweekly to Ammar Mohammad Abdallah Saleh, deputy head of the US-funded and trained National Security Bureau.

In 2008, he says, he informed Ammar Saleh three times about al-Qaeda’s plan to attack the US embassy.

The first occasion came three months before the attack, and then he confirmed the pending attack twice more during the final week of preparation.

Mujahid claims to have told Ammar Saleh the exact location of the electronics shop where the bomb was assembled, located no more than a kilometre from the presidential palace.

Informant: Saleh supported al-Qaeda

He even alleges that Ammar Saleh supplied cash to pay for the bomb’s construction.

If Mujahid’s testimony is to be believed, Saleh’s regime not only had detailed intelligence and ample time to disrupt the plot, but it actively assisted an attack that killed a dozen people.

This is the first time anyone has implicated a named member of Saleh’s regime in the 2008 US embassy attack.

But it is not the first time the regime has been suspected of involvement. In truth, US officials suspected President Saleh’s complicity in the attack for a number of reasons.

Rick Schwein, interviewed in Al Jazeera’s film, reveals that three days before the embassy attack, Saleh’s security forces had removed barriers blocking traffic in front of the embassy, without which al-Qaeda could not have approached the gate with a bomb-laden vehicle.

Schwein adds that Yemeni military forces stationed at the embassy refused to respond once the attack was under way.

A number of sources interviewed in the film suggest that Saleh used the threat of al-Qaeda to “shake down” the US government, requesting ever larger sums of counterterrorism funding in what amounted to a protection racket involving threats that the regime was actually controlling.

In the final analysis, the reliability of Mujahid’s testimony in “Al-Qaeda Informant” may depend upon his own integrity.

Yet, when combined with other verified information from Yemen, the film builds the strongest case yet that President Saleh and members of his family were complicit over the years in enabling the spread of al-Qaeda inside the country, and raises suspicions about a political family that remains influential in a country in the grip of mounting turmoil.

Dr Stephen W Day is the author of Regionalism and Rebellion in Yemen. Follow him on Twitter @DaySWTweet

Source: Al Jazeera