Statement regarding al Qaeda in Yemen, 1997

Author: Anthony C Heaford
(c.3300 words and a dozen pictures; c.25-minutes reading)


KSM Yempak yemen005


The Premise – my 9/11 attack prediction.

On a Wednesday morning flight from Boston to Toronto in June 1997 I predicted the 9/11 attacks – naming the primary target, the perpetrators and accurately describing the method.

Logic, and a cursory knowledge of current events told me that the group who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 would attack the buildings again, this time using hijacked civilian airliners as kamikaze pilot guided missiles. There were still huge global grievances over US foreign policy, I’d noticed an increasing predilection for suicide attacks and I had just boarded an international flight from the US mainland after undergoing no security checks whatsoever - literally none.

Boarding procedure at Logan airport in Boston was exactly like a bus station in 1997. I collected my boarding pass after showing just a credit card, checked-in my hold luggage with said boarding pass and then wandered along empty corridors to the doorstep of the aircraft. There was an x-ray machine I passed, but it was switched off and unmanned. The first person I told of my concerns was the first person I saw, the air-steward at the aircraft door; I recall she smiled and told me not to worry about it, saying it was normal. The cockpit door was open for much of the flight.

My destination in Toronto was a factory called Sunworthy Packaging – I was an international field-service technician spending about six months of the year travelling to different customers, installing and servicing printing machinery. The next morning I spoke with the Sunworthy machine operators about my fears of a catastrophic terrorist hijacking and attack against the WTC, again with great concern. But, as with the air-steward they saw little to be concerned about.

I spoke very specifically about my prediction on two other occasions – once in Yemen in September 1997, and the second time in Brooklyn, New York in December that same year.  

 

This is an account of those visits and conversations.

___________________________________

My visit to Taiz, Yemen in 1997

I was to install an ancillary printing machine purchased by Longulf Trading, a London based subsidiary of the Yemeni HSA Group. The machine purchase was on behalf of a customer called ‘Genpack’ with a PO Box delivery address in Taiz, Yemen. The order was for the highest specification system available – this was seemingly a ‘money no object’ kind of project.

A four-day installation was part of the contract for this new machine sale to ‘Genpack’. A one-day visit to a HSA Group factory at a different location in Taiz was also booked, to service an existing machine installed previously by a different technician.

I arrived in Sana’a around 7 a.m. on Saturday 20th September. A driver had been sent to collect me from the airport but he had the wrong name on his greeting sign in the arrivals hall. Consequently I missed him and took a taxi from Sana’a to Taiz myself, finding the factory quite easily after the driver stopped to ask for help on the city outskirts. This was despite my only having the company name ‘Genpack’ with a P.O. Box address and there being no external signage at our destination.

The factory was located within a very large walled compound occupying a hilltop to the East of the city. My unannounced arrival at the gate by taxi caused some concern amongst the numerous uniformed Pakistani security guards there.

The security guards asked me to wait outside and the gate was closed – I then momentarily glimpsed a non-uniformed person looking at me over the compound wall. He was off to one side of the gate, holding an assault rifle. After five or ten-minutes a man in office clothes came to the gate and invited me to step inside – I explained who I was, my bags were collected from the taxi for me and I was told the security guards would pay the taxi fare for the five-hour journey.

This map of the compound shows the general layout – the circled buildings to the left are offices positioned to one side of a large square on top of the hill. I was told the second building circled was a school for the employees of the company. The right hand building circled was a newly built factory unit, empty except for the machine I was installing:

yempak b


Today Google maps marks this compound as ‘Central Security. The link is to a marker on the factory building, located at 13°35'17.3"N 44°01'59.5"E

The very heavy battle damage inflicted over the last two-years is clearly visible in this 2017 image from Google Maps:


The office buildings have been destroyed, the factory building attacked at least twice and there’s evidence of both ground and air assaults. The school building appears untouched despite it being besides the entrance road – it does have a domed roof and may be a Mosque as well as classroom.

I spent four-hours on site that first afternoon, assembling the machine besides a partition wall inside the air-conditioned factory unit with the maintenance technician and the two machine operators – all Pakistani nationals, as I recall. This photo of the machine was taken on the last day of the installation – I had a habit of photographing the machines I installed.

c yemen610


The customer had booked my hotel and I was taken to check-in about 5 p.m. that afternoon. I have this note in my customer database entry: "Shawki Alariki 9674 216301" – I think this may be the hotel name and telephone number. This photo may be of the hotel:

yemen624


___________________________________

Machine installation

From Sunday 21st to Wednesday 24th September I worked four long days training the same two machine operators – they spoke English well but had no knowledge whatsoever of printing. There was an Italian printing press engineer whom I knew visiting the factory too, measuring up for the installation of a very high specification printing press; I recall he also said that the customer had no knowledge of printing.  The pre-booked service visit to the HSA Group factory just 10-km away never happened, despite prompts by myself – I was not given a reason why and the four-day training schedule at YemPak was extended by a day to cover my entire visit.

Whilst working in the factory I was corrected on the name of the company given as ‘Genpack’ at the time of purchase by Longulf Trading. I was told the company was in fact called ‘YemPak’, an abbreviation of Yemen-Pakistan, on account of the bi-national ‘collaboration’ on the project.

As a travelling service technician much of my conversation was about my flights, hotel, restaurants, etc. – all the mainstays of a ‘life on the road’. Because of their interest in my conversation, I recall specifically talking about my fears of hijacked planes being flown into the WTC. I spoke with the operators and the maintenance technician about my prediction of that happening; I also spoke about the complete absence of security at US airports and the stunning naivety in the US of the potential for global threats to strike US soil.

On the morning of the fifth-day of my visit I saw (for the first time) the man I now believe to be Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He stood talking with the general manager on the far side of the factory, within my peripheral vision. The general manager had been introduced to me before as ‘the Chief’, or Mr. Said Obadi. Mr. Obadi crossed the factory floor alone and spoke with me to confirm my previous conversations about the possible and probable attacks on the WTC, which I did. Mr. Obadi then informed me that a man not connected with YemPak would meet me at my hotel that evening and join me for dinner – he gave no explanation as to why, or whom this man was. I was then given the afternoon off so spent a few hours strolling through the city.

___________________________________

Dinner meeting

Around 5 p.m. on Thursday 25th a man came to my hotel and introduced himself as Youssef. We walked to a viewpoint above the city and chatted as the daylight faded, before going for dinner. We spoke extensively about world events, politics, and I again repeated my prediction of an attack on the WTC. Youssef said nothing about himself that I remember. He spoke English naturally, with a slight ‘international’ accent. This was the only time I met Youssef.

Yemen Dinner with 'Yousef' copy 2

 

___________________________________

Group photo

On my last day in Yemen, Friday 26th September, I visited the YemPak factory prior to being driven to the airport in Sana’a for my return flight. Before leaving the factory I took a photo of the machine installation, as was my habit, and then the manager asked me to come for a group photo in the office building. I said the machine photo was only for my installation database and that a group photo wasn’t necessary. But the manager was insistent I go with him.

ksm007

I was shown in to an office and introduced to a man on the far side of the room – they called him ‘the Engineer’. I remember asking why he was not involved in my machine installation and being told that he was working on ‘other projects’. ‘The Engineer’ did not speak or shake my hand.



Again at great insistence by the factory managers, and against my protests I was ‘dressed-up’ for the photo, wearing a Yemeni style headscarf and traditional male skirt with a ‘jambiya’ (dagger) at my waist. For the photo the ‘Engineer’ stepped beside me, putting his arm around my shoulder for both shots and then disappeared without a word once the photos were taken. In retrospect I now believe these photos were taken intending to be self-incriminating evidence against me, in light of KSM’s notoriety, my conversation s and events to come.

___________________________________

An unscheduled meeting

I departed the factory with a company driver soon after the photo session. Within about half-an-hour of leaving the factory the driver, a middle manager from YemPak, said he was taking me for a previously unmentioned meeting. He didn't say with whom the meeting was with or what it was about. I said I was concerned about missing my flight but the driver said: "Don’t worry, the plane will wait for you". 

We soon arrived in a wooded and secluded gully with a few buildings where i was shown in to an austere room and seated at a long table. Ten-minutes later about ten men came into the room without saying a word and sat down. Food was served. I now believe this was a ‘recruitment interview' with more senior al Qaeda personnel, prompted by my conversations with (and vetting by) Youssef.

These men said nothing and no introductions were made. Ignorant to the normal custom, perhaps through nerves, I did not wash my hands or pray before the meal. Initially everyone was just eating the vegetables from individual plates. Again ignorant of custom and decorum I made a mistake, reaching for the communal meat dish at the centre of the table. The head of the table (who I was sat next to) stood up abruptly, followed by the rest of the men. They swiftly left, without speaking and leaving the food uneaten. A different driver (I think) then took me to the airport – nothing was said about this meeting or what had happened.

___________________________________

My visit to New York, December 1997

On business travel again I visited a company called ‘Ultra-Creative’ in Brooklyn New York. This was a two-day installation and I had a morning free in New York City before my onward flight to the next customer and installation. 

thumb Work009 1024


Chatting with the machine operators at Ultra-Creative, some proper New Yorkers I thought, they asked if I would visit the WTC. I told them not and explained the very specific reasons I had cited before – I believed that the previous WTC bombing group would try again, but with hijacked civilian airliners. I said I thought this could happen at any moment due to the complete lack of domestic airport security. Although interested in my ‘wild speculation’, my concerns were essentially dismissed – this was possibly the last time I spoke of my fears.

WTC

 

___________________________________

My initial speculation

My fears of the WTC attack method were very genuine, but other than ‘general interest’ from people I told, it seemed I was alone in this speculation so I eventually stopped speaking of it and dismissed it from my thoughts. I had switched jobs a couple of years later to UK field service, ending my visits to the US and so I gave it little further thought. My photos from the visit were discarded or misplaced over time. In February 2009, on the eve of my being attested in to the British army, I did contact UK security services with speculation that I had met ‘al Qaeda people’ in Yemen in 1997.  Although they appeared to know of YemPak already, they showed no interest in my recollections. 

___________________________________
 

Subsequent investigations, starting March 2015

Prompted by Saudi Arabia’s assault on Yemen I hunted for my previously thought lost photos. After a desperate search I found a printed contact sheet of the entire set, but only one 6”x4” print from my Yemen trip – the photo of Youssef and I sharing dinner.

I also started to research more widely regarding my ‘al Qaeda’ meeting speculation and possible YemPak links to the group. I soon found significant supporting information and evidence – enough for me to contact UK security services twice: first on 21st April 2015 with my general suspicions and the photo of my dinner meeting with Youssef, and then submitting a detailed seven-page report two weeks later, at 4 a.m. on 4th May. Within six-hours of my submitting the detailed report Saudi Arabia announced a 24–hour unilateral ceasefire and followed this on the 7th May by proposing a five-day ‘humanitarian pause’ in the fighting. It was then six-weeks after their onslaught on Yemen had begun. On 11th May the Houthis claimed to have shot down a Saudi coalition F-16 fighter jet and there has been little pause in the fighting since I think.

I have continued to investigate my strong suspicions and have found even more compelling evidence – enough to make me certain and willing to publish all this information publicly - to put my name and reputation to these claims. Here is that additional research with the principle points that add weight to my allegations:


1.    A 2012 interview with the former US ambassador to Yemen:


 
“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.
Numbers [are] always impossible to know, but 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.“
Barbara Bodine, US ambassador to Yemen 1997-2001

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/understanding-yemens-al-qaeda-threat/#ha 

It is now my belief that YemPak was a front company, ‘warehousing foreign nationals in a peripheral area’. I think only the most senior manager at YemPak was a Yemeni – everyone else I met there was a foreign national. The location was unusual too – a lone factory building within a large defensive compound at the Eastern entrance to the city, a compound that is of significant strategic value judging by the repeated assaults on the complex since 2015. This is in contrast to the HSA Group printing factory just ten-kilometres away, which remains seemingly untouched by the conflict:

 

2.    A UN investigation of links between the HSA Group and al Qaeda:

Longulf Trading, a subsidiary of the HSA Group, purchased the machine I was installing at YemPak. I believe I can link HSA to al Qaeda, via YemPak. A United Nations investigation also linked the HSA Group to al Qaeda, via company director Abdul Rahman Hayel Saeed. 
http://www.foxnews.com/story/2004/09/17/possible-saddam-al-qaeda-link-seen-in-un-oil-for-food-program.html

Shortly after 9/11, a Swiss registered company abbreviated as MIGA was named on a U.N. watch list of entities and individuals belonging to, or affiliated with Al Qaeda. One of MIGA’s founding directors in 1984 was Abdul Rahman Hayel Saeed – the Yemeni mentioned above who is a director at his family’s business (a $10 Billion/annum conglomerate), the HSA Group. The HSA Group accounts for 1/3 of Yemen’s GDP.
https://relationshipscience.com/abdul-rahman-hayel-saeed-p4365915

Mr. Saeed used to run the Jeddah office of the HSA Group. He was also director of the Sahara Petrochemical Company (founded on May 5th 2004), headquartered in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. The HSA Group was founded in 1938, the same year Saudi struck their first (and still the world’s largest) commercial oil well - I do not think this timing is a coincidence.
http://canadafreepress.com/article/saudi-kingdom-continues-to-export-radical-wahhabism

MIGA was removed from the UN watch list on 14th November 2007. Despite six-years with enough evidence to justify blacklist them as linked to al Qaeda, the company was quietly removed from the list without explanation or given reason.
https://www.un.org/press/en/2007/sc9172.doc.htm

3.    Documented Links to Daesh Funding:

This Forbes article titled "What ISIS Is Banking On” mentions the Tadhamon International Islamic Bank, which is registered with the HSA Group at the same PO Box used by the HSA Group Headquarters in Taiz:

 https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2016/06/17/what-isis-is-banking-on/#2dbc7c831651

 the banking situation there remained surprisingly intact during AQAP occupation. 
At least three banks remained open: Tadhamon International Islamic Bank, Alkuraimi Islamic Bank, and International Bank of Yemen


This share certificate for the Tadhamon International Islamic Bank links to the location I visited in Taiz, the YemPak address P.O.Box 5302, Taiz - as highlighted. There is also the connection to the Qatar Islamic Bank - named TEN times in the Saudi list of ’59-individuals and 12-entities’ implicated in funding Daesh and al Qaeda. The Saudi list was published on 9th June 2017, just two-days after I first highlighted these links.



4.    Group photo and ‘the Engineer’

Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was awarded a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering in 1986 after studying for three-years at US universities in North Carolina. It has been reported widely that KSM was known as ‘the Engineer’ within the al Qaeda organization.  

I believe the man introduced to me as ‘the Engineer’, besides me here with the moustache, was Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.


The circumstances of our meeting, his ignorant attitude, the “other projects” comment and the coerced and staged photo give me cause to believe this meeting was intended to be self-incriminating to me, in-light of the conversations I’d had. I can think of no other reason for the meeting or photos.

I also recall that ‘the Engineer’ was wearing 3” high platform shoes when we met. This would match with reports I have read of KSM’s insecurities over his diminutive stature.


5.    Identifying Youssef using the dinner photograph

I have not positively identified the man who introduced himself as Youssef, my dinner companion in Taiz. But I do have good reason to think he could be a close blood relative of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni citizen held at the US Guantanamo Bay Prison since 2002.


Mr. al-Shibh is accused of being a high-ranking al Qaeda operative who was a "key facilitator for the 9/11 attacks". He is sometimes referred to as “the 20th hijacker”; he was unable to get a US visa and it is said that the operation went ahead one man short.

Four face recognition programs match my dinner companion to Ramzi bin al-Shibh, shown here on the left of the comparison photos.


Two apple-mac face recognition software programs (iPhoto and Aperture) match them as the same person. Two online face recognition services also matched them. I have been advised that they are not the same person, but it was also speculated that they are very likely to be close blood relatives.

Youssef had said nothing about himself to me. He spoke natural English and was good company - or at least he seemed interested in what I thought and said about the world.

___________________________________

Conclusion

Following my experiences, meetings and conversations in Yemen in 1997 I had suspected that YemPak was a front company for al Qaeda in Yemen, but I had no corroborating evidence or compelling reasoning - just my seemingly wild accounts of discussing 9/11 style attacks there.

Since re-discovering my previously thought lost photos and finding information not accessible or available to me before, I am now certain enough of my assertions to speak publicly. I believe I can place al Qaeda operatives at or linked to YemPak during my visit, and ultimately link them to the $10 Billion/annum HSA conglomerate, via Longulf Trading.

The simplest way to potentially dismiss or validate my claims is to confirm the identity of ‘Youssef’ – the man in my dinner photo, something I have been unable to do so far.

___________________________________

Caveat

Around the same time I predicted the 9/11 attacks, in September 1997, so did US security analysis experts.
I have supposed this after finding this entry on ‘historycommons.org’ (the most comprehensive database of information on 9/11 I’ve found):

Spring 1998: Experts Warn FAA of Potential Massive Kamikaze Attack

 Three terrorism specialists present an analysis of security threats to Federal Aviation Administration security officials. Their analysis describes two scenarios involving planes as weapons. In one, hijacked planes are flown into nuclear power plants along the East Coast. In the other, hijackers commandeer Federal Express cargo planes and simultaneously crash them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House, the Capitol, the Sears Tower, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Stephen Gale, one of the specialists, later says the analysis is based in part upon attempts that had been made in 1994 to crash airplanes in the Eiffel Tower and the White House (see September 11, 1994) (see December 24, 1994). Gale later recalls that one FAA official responds to the presentation by saying, “You can’t protect yourself from meteorites.” [Washington Post, 5/19/2002]

And if you search for “warning” on the history commons site you will see this was not the only warning of an al Qaeda attack on or against the US using aircraft. The concept of a commercial airliner striking the WTC was certainly not new either:

9:11 advert




May 2, 1968: Advert in New York Times Warns of WTC Danger, Shows Plane About to Strike One of the Towers

A 1968 advert with an artist’s rendition of a plane hitting the WTC.

A civic group opposed to the building of the World Trade Center publishes a nearly full-page advertisement in the New York Times, warning that the new buildings will be so tall that a commercial airliner might crash into them. The group, called the Committee for a Reasonable World Trade Center, is mainly composed of New York real estate developers who are worried that the huge construction project will glut the market.








I did not plan the 9/11 attacks, I did not conceive them either. I saw a gaping vulnerability and tried to warn people. The morning after my Boston to Toronto flight in 1997 I refused to start working until the factory manager had given me his assurance he would call the airport authorities as a priority with my warning. I even spoke to New Yorkers about my fears whilst in the shadow of the towers later that same year.

My visit to Yemen was incidental to my job at the time - installing industrial printing machinery. Although I had suspisions I had met with the same elements of people who attacked the WTC in 1993 these suspisions were based on the 10-minute meeting I had on my journey to the airport. I had no idea who Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was in 1997 and i would not see the potential connection to ‘the Engineer’ who I was introduced to until I found the lost photo contact sheet in 2015.

The dinner conversation with Youssef was political - talking mainly about the gross injustices we both saw in the world. When I then spoke of retalitory attacks on the US, such as a 9/11 event, it was not in hope or want of such - it was highlighting a cultural and societal naivety to the reality of their foreign policy and domestic vulnerability. It was not a suggestion that it should happen, it was a fear that nothing would change on US foreign policy before it did happen.


© Anthony C Heaford 2016