BuzzFeed reporter Aram Roston has published a blockbuster exposé on the growing use of mercenaries by a key American ally to carry out a murder spree in Yemen. According to the report, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is employing the services of the Spear Operations Group, a Delaware-incorporated firm which hires American special operation reservists and veterans to carry out targeted killings. The UAE is particularly interested in killing Yemeni leaders of the Islamist political party Al-Islah. The UAE considers Al-Islah to be a terrorist organization. As Roston notes, many experts say Al-Islah is “a legitimate political party that threatens the UAE not through violence but by speaking out against its ambitions in Yemen.”
The article details a botched assassination attempt on December 16, 2015 when mercenaries from the Spear Operations Group tried to bomb a Yemeni office in order to kill Anssaf Ali Mayo, a leading figure in Al-Islah. As it happened, Mayo wasn’t in the office at the time and so survived the assassination bid. But, as Roston notes, the bombing “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 [Al-Islah’s] leaders.”
Mercenary assassinations are on the rise as a byproduct of the American-led war on terror. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama loosened the restraints on targeted killings, often done by drones. They also greatly expanded the size of special forces, creating an vast reservoir of highly trained soldiers who could ply their services to regimes like the United Arab Emirates.
“There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” Spear Operations Group founder Abraham Golan told BuzzFeed. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition.”
Golan claims that he wants the issue of mercenary assassinations to be publicly debated.
“Maybe I’m a monster,” he says. “Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”