Usually assassination attempts are obsessed over and broken down by media. Perhaps this would be the case had Ali Abdullah Saleh been killed immediately and not left to lie in a Saudi hospital for weeks, keeping all eyes on his health and the chaos that ensued from his evacuation. But this outcome only explains part of why an inside job is somehow flown below the radar.
As is generally the case with assassinations and conspiracies, both Saleh’s ruling General People’s Party (GPC) and the Obama administration have reason to bury the real story.
Scott Stewart, Vice President of Tactical Intelligence at STRATFOR, broke down the assassination attempt on Saleh’s presidential compound in a recent (though already dated) analysis. His straightforward account of the situation requires no elaboration. Pictures from inside and outside of the presidential mosque bear evidence of an implosion and not an external mortar “or tank-guided missile,” contrary to the initial government reaction. Stewart speculates from the blast residue and “shattery” explosion that a military-grade explosive was used in the IED, likely planted within the compound's walls.
Meanwhile local witnesses allege that government accounts of a rocket attack don’t match the assassination attempt’s timing.
With this basic crime scene in mind the task becomes extrapolating its political implications, which STRATFOR and most news sites fail to follow through on. (This Foreign Policy analysis was just published but doesn’t go deep enough, in our opinion). Although the probability of an inside job has finally surfaced in Western reporting, many Yemenis suspected an internal plot or foreign conspiracy from the start. U.S. and Israeli conspiracies were thrown into the mix, reasoning they needed to silence their murderous ally before he snitched on them. A mob killing also held the possibility of triggering new chaos, which some Yemenis don’t believe America is averse to.
The U.S. government is commonly believed to seek destabilization in order to justify an escalating military presence in the region.
While this theory is truer in relation to Yemen’s overall condition, we do not believe Washington orchestrated the attack on Saleh and his senior officials. The attack did set in motion a false transfer to Vice President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, corresponding with U.S. demands to preserve the ruling GPC. An elite team of U.S. operatives could even scapegoat the blast on opposition figures or tribal rivals. The idea of infiltrating the presidential compound unnoticed simply sounds implausible.
Just as implausible is a mortar or rocket attack from the al-Ahmar tribe, the government’s immediate target. Its chieftain, Sadiq al-Ahmar, suddenly found his house and neighborhood under attack three weeks ago, after Saleh decided to manufacture a tribal conflict to spook Washington and Riyadh (mission accomplished). Nevertheless, the odds were slim enough that al-Ahmar’s militia landed a precision shot inside Saleh’s mosque. Sadiq explicitly denied responsibility, then a possible feint but now a realistic outcome.
It also appeared obvious from the start that the GPC used al-Ahmar as political and military cover. Several of his brother’s houses were shelled soon after the blast, as were positions of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar. Inner chatter soon switched to Yemen’s leading rogue general and commander of the defected Armored 1st division, turning Sadiq into a decoy. Except Ali Mohsen appears to be nothing more than another decoy.
On June 8th an FBI forensics team landed in Sana’a at the request of Saleh’s government. This team quickly deduced the reality behind the explosion, and listed al-Qaeda as a potential suspect to divert attention from Saleh’s inner circle. Such a plan, if that was the idea, didn’t work. According to a Yemeni official, “They are concerned about how the attack was carried out. Everyone is a suspect.”
Rather than the al-Ahmars or a rogue military agent, the most plausible source of assassination appears to reside within Saleh’s inner circle. Stewart writes for STRATFOR, “One other thing to consider is, as we look at the placement of this device, it was done by someone who knew Saleh’s routine. It was done by someone who knew the compound.” A rogue faction remains a possibility; Hadi and acting foreign minister Abu Bakr al- Qirbi, among others, supposedly moved to vote Saleh out of office before backing down to ruling GPC officials. They potentially stood to gain if the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) actually implemented its power-sharing initiative.
However they are unlikely to have chosen an extreme measure, knowing that Saleh’s family would automatically assume command.
One member, though, has fallen under particular suspicion. With several individuals now in custody, speculation has turned from one half-brother (Ali Mohsen) to Saleh’s other half brother, Ali Saleh al-Ahmar. Related through Saleh’s mother's second marriage, Ali Saleh led the Republican Guard until being replaced by Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2000. He also suspected Saleh of killing his nephew, leading many Yemenis to believe he finally carried out his revenge.
Yemen Online reports, “officials who were at the scene said they heard that the attack was a revenge by the president's half brother Ali Saleh al-Ahmar who was arrested later in the presidential palace over short clashes.”
Even now the decoy process continues. In light of these arrests and connections to Ali Saleh, the government has released counter-propaganda against Yemen’s political opposition. Apparently interrogations had revealed “important, grave” facts “related to Al-Mushtarak” – an Arabic term for the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). Clearly this division and disarray is responsible for jamming the GPC. Not only is Saleh’s party facing “food, oil and electricity shortages,” all of which impede a dialogue with the JMP, the GPC is turning on itself.
The end result is a continual breakdown in U.S.-Saudi negotiations between the GPC and JMP. Saleh’s absence itself has created enough chaos, yet Washington and Riyadh refuse to drop the GPC in pushing for a “unity” government. Weeks could pass amid sporadic negotiations, the popular revolution will be pressured to escalate its opposition to the GCC, and Yemen’s humanitarian crisis will pile up. Contrary to the “opportunity” afforded by Saleh’s medical leave, the likelihood of an inside job has heavily obstructed a transition process and widened the security vacuum.
One conspiracy begets another, and the Obama administration possesses every reason to hush an assassination that it played no part in.