American mercenaries were hired by the UAE to assassinate political leaders and clerics in Yemen in 2015, according to a new report.
The mercenaries were former American elite special operations fighters who had years of specialised training in the US military. They were recruited by the Delaware-incorporated Spear Operations Group, which was hired by the UAE to conduct a series of targeted killings for $1.5mn per month, various news outlets reported citing a BuzzFeed News article.
The soldiers who allegedly signed on were offered more than $25,000 a month.
The veterans were paid to take part in mercenary missions to assassinate a number of Yemeni individuals deemed "terrorists" by the UAE, the leader of the group said.
“There was a targeted assassination programme in Yemen,” Spear founder Abraham Golan told BuzzFeed. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the (Saudi-led) coalition.”
Golan, a Hungarian-Israeli security contractor who lives in the US, said his company, Spear Operations Group, pitched the idea to Mohamed Dahlan, the former head of security for the Palestinian Authority, as well as other key advisers to Emirati Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed.
The deal was discussed over a lunch in Abu Dhabi, at an Italian restaurant in the officers’ club of a UAE military base. Golan and a former US Navy SEAL named Isaac Gilmore had flown in from the US to make their pitch.
Golan told BuzzFeed that his team – which reportedly included a former member of the CIA, a Special Forces sergeant with the Maryland Army National Guard and two former Navy SEALs – was responsible for a number of the (Yemen) war’s most high-profile assassinations. The group allegedly received 23 targets from the UAE, but Golan did not identify any victims.
The CIA reportedly told BuzzFeed that it had no information about Spear’s missions in Yemen and the Navy Special Warfare Command declined to comment.
On the night of December 29, 2015, the team's job was to assassinate Anssaf Ali Mayo, the local leader of the Islamist political party Al-Islah.
The attack, described by two of its participants and corroborated by drone surveillance footage, was the first operation in a for-profit venture. For months in war-torn Yemen, some of America’s most highly trained soldiers worked on a mercenary mission to kill prominent clerics and Islamist political figures.
The UAE considers Al-Islah to be the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE calls a terrorist outfit. However, many experts insist that Al-Islah, one of whose members has won the Nobel Peace Prize, is not a terror group. They say it is a legitimate political party that threatens the UAE not through violence but by speaking out against its ambitions in Yemen.
The assassination attempt against Mayo, which included a bomb laced with shrapnel attached to the Al-Islah headquarters in Aden, ultimately failed, despite two explosions going off.
According to BuzzFeed, the group's plan went haywire when the mercenaries were caught in a shootout outside the building before they could plant the bomb. Mayo had also reportedly left the building about 10 minutes before the attack started.
A spokesman for Al-Islah said the assassination attempt was the “first attack” against them.
Gilmore, who was allegedly part of the mission targeting Mayo, said some of the people the unit targeted were members of Al-Islah, some were clerics and some he had no doubt were terrorists. “There is the possibility that the target would be someone who (UAE Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed) doesn’t like,” he added. “We’d try to make sure that didn’t happen.”
Golan said during his company’s long engagement in Yemen, his team was responsible for a number of the war’s high-profile assassinations, though he declined to specify which ones.
"The operation against Mayo — which was reported at the time but until now was not known to have been carried out by American mercenaries — marked a pivot point in the war in Yemen, a brutal conflict that has seen children starved, villages bombed and epidemics of cholera roll through the civilian population. The bombing was the first salvo in a string of unsolved assassinations that killed more than two dozen of the group’s leaders," the report said.
Under American law it is illegal to “conspire to kill, kidnap or maim” in a foreign country. However, the US does not prohibit mercenaries and Americans can also legally serve in foreign militaries.
The revelations come at a time when the world is focused on the disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey after he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
More than 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition launched a military campaign in Yemen.