25 September 1997, Yemen: My detailed conversation with Yousef about a 9/11 style attack

Thursday was my last full day in Yemen and there was a relaxed atmosphere in the factory that morning. In my peripheral vision I saw the Chief on the other side of the factory speaking with a man I’d not seen before, the man introduced to me as ‘the Engineer’ the next day - it was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I'd not spoken with the Chief since my arrival so was pleased when he walked over to chat with me: 

"Yes, the installation had gone fine.
Yes, the hotel is fine too, thank-you.
And yes, I think the WTC will be attacked again by the same group as before, but using a hijack civilian airliner as missile next time"

The Chief had asked if I'd really spoken with the machine operators about the WTC being attacked. He paused to consider my reply before saying a man would meeting me at my hotel that evening for dinner; I said great, looking forward to the company and hoping for a good meal to celebrate a successful installation. I asked who my dinner companion would be but the Chief was vague in his reply: he said he was not a YemPak employee but that I shouldn’t worry and just enjoy the dinner. 

The Chief ended the conversation by saying I could have the afternoon off - I said this would mess up my plans to sign off the installation but he said that could be done in the morning, when I had expected to be enroute for the airport. I was being given a new schedule by the managing director of YemPak, the Chief, Saeed Alrobaidi.

Before leaving the factory I tried asking for my hotel's phone number but in response I was asked why I needed it. I explained that if I got lost or had a problem when exploring Taiz alone then it would be helpful - they conferred amongst themselves before agreeing that was a reasonable request and I was given this name and phone number: “Shawki Alariki - 9674 216301”. The adjacent photo is of my hotel in Taiz and the scanned image below is of my customer database entry. I never had cause to call that ‘emergency contact' number I was given but I have identified one possible candidate for who ’Shawki’ was - a Yemeni Guantanamo detainee from Taiz who uses the name Sharqawi in several of his aliases. His Guantanamo detainee assessment is pictured below and links to this full detainee assessment as published by wikileaks.

Dinner with Youssef

Thursday afternoon was my first chance to see some of Taiz. I wandered the streets, bought some souvenirs and enjoying the peaceful ambiance of the city. My dinner companion arrived at the hotel around 4-p.m. He introduced himself as Yousef and suggested we take a walk before dinner. We strolled to a view point overlooking the city and as the sun began to set I took a couple of photos. Youssef gestured across the ancient city skyline and asked what I saw. It seemed a rather searching and philisophical question in what had been general conversation about my work, my family, my home in England, etcetera. I didn’t answer and we were distracted by a some children taking an interest in me and my camera. We made friends with the children - joking and laughing with them before taking their photo and bidding them goodbye. We had a positive conversation as we walked back to the city for dinner, saying that children were the future and that every generation has a chance to make the next one a little bit better, the world a little more equal and fair for all. I sensed Yousef was a deeply humanitarian thinker and I felt a connection to him in this matter. 

Over dinner we discussed the news events of the day. I thought it was an informed and interesting discussion, but perhaps Yousef was just a good listener. He asked me about my visits to the US and I repeated my comments I’d made to the machine operators a few days before; I said the USA was a large and rich country with many decent people, but with a stunning ignorance as to their government’s aggressive colonial foreign policies.

Yousef asked me what if more than one plane was used and what I thought the reactions to such an attack would be. We discussed those matters for some time.

We specific remembered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin too, assassinated in November 1995 by a right-wing extremist opposed to the Oslo Peace Accords. The assassin was a first-generation Israeli, born in 1970 to an immigrant Orthodox Jewish Yemeni family. Yousef and I talked about the rise of the more extreme elements in Israeli politics and Yousef lamented the late Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and what Yousef had thought was a genuine and last chance to find a peaceful solution between Israel and the Palestinian people.

These conversations were in the context of my travel warning. Yousef asked if I wanted an attack to happen. I replied:

‘God, no - it'd be an abhornet act of mass murder of thousands of innocents,
 but someone will do it if US foreign policy or airport 
security doesn’t improve very soon'

Youssef small

Yousef appeared to agree and approve of that answer and the conversation returned to more positive things. I enjoyed the evening with Youssef, I thought he was a gentleman of great humanity. We had dined in the restaurant of my hotel so when Yousef said goodnight relatively early, about 8:00 p.m., I got an early night. I’d had similar meetings before during my travels, specifically as a lone English speaker overseas. People are largely welcoming to foreigners I'd found and will happily engage you in conversation, often to just practice their English language skills. I'd assumed this to be the case with Youssef - I guessed he was a relative or friend of the Chief at YemPak and simply wanted to practice his English whilst showing me some hospitality in a strange city. I put very little weight in the meeting or conversation at the time, my thoughts more focused on getting back to Madchester for the weekend.

When clearing out old photos in 2006 my dinner photo with Yousef was the only one I kept. Face recognition programs match Yousef’s face with Yemeni Guantanamo detainee Ramzi bin al-Shibh - I think they're brothers or cousins.

Photo contact sheet — diary entries — YemPak customer database entries
Satellite images of the HSA Group HQ & YemPak and the view from Taiz to Al Qa’idah town
Google Maps HSA Group HQ at PO Box 5302 Taiz  Route from HSA Group HQ to Al Qaidah 


Truly, for some of us nothing is written, unless we write it 
© Anthony C Heaford - The Quiet Mancunian