Diary, 25th Sept 2020: Al Qa’idah in Yemen - EVERYONE Knew

Reflecting back on her time as US Ambassador to Yemen, former diplomat Barbara Bodine said:

"When I got there in 1997,  there was already an Al Qaeda presence. 
We knew about it.  The Yemenis knew about it.  Everyone knew about it."

I didn’t know about it when I arrived in Sanaa on 20 September 1997.

I was there for a six day business visit to a new customer. Yet within five hours of arriving in Yemen I'd already passed within one mile of al Qaeda’s premier training base and was now stood at the gates of an al Qaeda front company having only had to ask directions from a stranger in the street.

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My new customer in Yemen had sent a driver to Sanaa airport to collect me, but he had the wrong name on his sign and I walked right by him. Although I only had the name (a wrong spelling of it) of the company I was visiting in Taiz city, I felt confident that I could make my own way there. I found a taxi driver willing to take me the five hour journey south, on condition his friend could ride along with us, for their security on a ten hour round trip I guess.

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As we entered the outskirts of Taiz we stopped to ask directions, from an elderly lady I recall, a local. She didn’t know the company name we told her, Genpak (correct spelling YemPak), but she looked at me, a young white skinned Westerner in the back seat, and seemed to know where we were looking for.

“Ahh, that’ll be the foreigner’s compound” - the old lady said.

The old lady gave us directions (we were within a mile of our destination) to the Hayel Saeed Anam Group headquarters compound, where the first dozen men I saw there were all foreign, all Pakistani. They were the uniformed security guards at the compound entrance who asked me what I wanted when I knocked on the large barbwire topped gates. I had just managed to find myself, unwittingly, stood outside of an al Qaeda front company’s secure compound, negotiating my entry with the guards.

So it looks like Barbara Bodine was right, everyone knew al Qaeda were in Yemen, even the old lady in the Taiz street who gave us directions. Everyone except for me and Commander Kirk Lippold of the USS Cole anyway.

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Former US Ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, in the same PBS interview said:

“… these people were primarily foreign nationals. One of the best ways to describe the presence is that they were largely warehousing lower-level people in peripheral areas." 

Inside my new customer's compound the Pakistani security guards studied at the impressive on site madrassa and also worked inside the same large empty factory building that I was installing the first piece of machinery in. The mix of nationalities I met inside and out of the compound were all amiable, very well educated, polite and intelligent men. 

Bodine also said:

"They didn’t have an operational or leadership presence there in any sense."

The Pakistani nationals I worked with were part of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s terrorist cell, operating out of a front company in my customer’s secure headquarters compound. They couldn’t of had a better organisational setup, or more structured leadership directing technical training and definately planning attacks.

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And a final quote from Barbara Bodine’s PBS interview:

"To the extent that we knew — by methods I will not discuss — these people were largely unhappy, largely bored and spent most of their time trying to figure out how to get out [of Yemen]."

USS Cole

The men I met in the al Qaeda front company compound in Taiz were not bored or unhappy. They had outstanding facilities and limitless access to support, supplies and finance. Yemen was al Qaeda’s welcoming host. According to Ambassador Bodine she knew - everyone knew in fact - everyone except me and Commander Kirk Lippold of the USS Cole that is. 

Ms Bodine's full interview on the US PBS website is available here:

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