The government of Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh supported and even helped direct al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), according to allegations made to Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.
A former Al-Qaeda operative who says he later turned informant to the Yemeni government made the claim during three days of interviews in a location outside the Gulf.
Hani Muhammad Mujahid, 38, told Al Jazeera that “many al-Qaeda leaders were under the complete control of Ali Abdullah Saleh,” who was ousted from power in February 2012 amid a popular uprising.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“Ali Abdullah Saleh turned Al-Qaeda into an organised criminal gang,” said Mujahid. “He was not only playing with the West. He was playing with the entire world.”
The claims of the married father of three appear in a new documentary, Al-Qaeda Informant, which airs on Al Jazeera from June 4 at 20:00 GMT.
|Al Qaeda Informant
The film explores Mujahid’s claims that:
Afghanistan and Pakistan
Mujahid says he was a member of al-Qaeda from the late 1990s, when he travelled to Afghanistan and trained at Al-Faruq camp, and met the group’s leader Osama bin Laden.
He became an explosives expert and taught other al-Qaeda fighters how to use the materials, losing his right thumb in an accident during that period.
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, Mujahid, who went by the nom de guerre Abdul Hakim Jan, along with other al-Qaeda operatives, found themselves under attack by US forces in Afghanistan.
After fighting at Shah-i-Kot in March 2002, and other battles, he crossed the border into Pakistan’s tribal areas, from where al-Qaeda continued fighting.
In 2004, he was detained and interrogated by Pakistani intelligence, as well as by US agents.
Al Jazeera has independently verified Mujahid’s account of his role in Afghanistan, but has been unable to do so for the testimony of his time in Yemen as a government informer who infiltrated al-Qaeda.
The channel has shown the transcripts of his interviews to intelligence experts.
“It certainly seems that Hani Mujahid is who he says he was when he was in Afghanistan,” says Robert Grenier, a former CIA station chief in Pakistan.
“I can’t swear that he was a senior trainer at the Al-Faruq Camp but virtually everything that he says tracks with what I know about where al-Qaeda was, how they were operating; what they were doing particularly from 9/11 onward.”
Informant in Yemen
Mujahid was returned to Yemen after his detention in Pakistan, and the Yemeni authorities released him from prison in August 2006 – after which he says he became a paid informant on al-Qaeda, saying he received $500 per month from the National Security Bureau (NSB) and $250 per month from the Political Security Organisation (PSO).
Richard Barrett, who was with Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency before becoming Director of the United National Al-Qaeda Monitoring Team, described Mujahid’s story on his background in Afghanistan, his return to Yemen and his involvement with al-Qaeda again in Yemen as “credible”.
During his work as an informant, Mujahid claims he provided information about both the attack that killed eight Spanish tourists in July 2007, and the assault on the US embassy almost 18 months later. In both cases, he says his information was ignored.
Mujahid said: “On one occasion when I met with [Deputy Director of the NSB] Ammar Muhammad Abdullah Saleh he said to me: ‘Hani, you are a treasure, a treasure of information. You must be loyal to your homeland.’
“I took this at the time to be an encouragement to work more diligently and make more efforts. But eventually they let me down.”
Barrett and Grenier have analysed and assessed Mujahid’s claims of his time in Yemen from 2006.
Grenier believes 70 percent of what he says is “genuine,” with an additional 30 percent embellished in order to make his assertions appear “more credible”.
“I think that he is legitimately prey to a conspiratorial mindset,” said Grenier. “I think that he may genuinely believe things that we would regard as implausible.
“I see a man telling you his story,” said Barrett, with “a bit embellished here, or something left out there.”
“But essentially, the story I would say is true up to these real points of Colonel Ammar knew about the American embassy bombing, Colonel Ammar knew about the Spanish tourist attack as did other people in PSO and NSB, and that Qasim al-Raymi was also working with the Yemeni government, so they had a very close cooperation there.
“Those are the bits that you really think, now can this be true? Is it true? This really needs looking into,” Barrett added.
Mujahid now says he is willing to testify in front of any international panel of investigation in order to achieve justice.
Spanish police briefly visited Yemen in July 2007 to investigate after a car bombing that killed eight Spanish citizens. They gathered little beyond forensic evidence.
Al Jazeera has learned that Yemeni authorities responded to an initial request for information but when Spanish prosecutors requested more details on several occasions, they received no reply.
The Spanish case is now closed unless and until new information comes to light.
US officials with the FBI investigated the 2008 embassy attack and also gathered a range of forensic evidence.
“We did the best we could,” Legal Attache in Yemen, Richard Schwein, told Al Jazeera. “But then, as time went on, the investigation stalled.
“Complicity on the part of one or more members of the Yemeni government would be very disappointing, but it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising.”