The popular American news and entertainment website Buzzfeed published an investigative report on Tuesday of a mercenary operation in Yemen that entailed an unusual collaboration between an Israeli-American assassin, the United Arab Emirates and the former head of the Palestinian preventive security forces Mohammad Dahlan.
According to the report, US forces—including former Navy Seals—were hired by a company in the UAE to carry out a series of assassinations. One of the main targets was Anssaf Ali Mayo, a Yemeni Islamist leader who according to the UAE is a terrorist who leads the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The mercenaries' mission was to plant an explosive charge at the entrance to Mayo’s office, near a football stadium in the center of the city of Aden. The explosion, on December 29, 2015, was supposed to "kill everyone in the office"—but it failed.
Golan: I was charged with the assassinations in Yemen
The company that hired the combatants is Spear Operations Group, a company incorporated in the state of Delaware, which was founded by Abraham Golan, an Israeli-American of Hungarian descent living near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
"I ran the assassination program in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates financed it," Golan said in a conversation with Buzzfeed.
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are leading a military campaign in Yemen along with other members of the Sunni Arab coalition against the Shiite Houthi rebels supported by Iran.
The United States is assisting coalition forces and supplies weapons and intelligence, among other things. The exposé by Buzzfeed comes amidst the "murder at the consulate" scandal: the alleged assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
Golan said that the team he headed was responsible for several major assassinations, but he refused to specify the names of those killed. He said that the United States needs an assassinations program similar to the one he has been running for months in Yemen.
“I just want there to be a debate,” he said. “Maybe I’m a monster. Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”
According to him, the model for the assassinations industry is based on Israel’s targeted killing of terrorists.
Golan, who maintains good relations with Israel through security deals in which he is involved, said he had lived in Israel for several years. In the past he attended a party with former Mossad chief Danny Yatom, and his expertise "was to provide security for energy clients in Africa."
Yatom confirmed in a conversation with Ynet that they had indeed met at a party in London: "I have not been in contact with him for years; we were in touch during my time as a businessman."
According to Yatom, "My acquaintance with Golan was not extensive, but he gave me the impression of an enthusiastic Zionist, a courageous man who was prepared to take great risks, and unfortunately, in the end, after he immigrated with his family to Israel, he emigrated and since then we have not spoken for many years.”
Regarding the things attributed to Golan in the article, Yatom said: "I have nothing to do with these things."
Dahlan and the Israeli assassin
The arrangement with the mercenaries was signed at an Italian restaurant at a base in the United Arab Emirates. Golan and a former Navy Seal named Isaac Gilmore flew there from the United States, with their host being none other than Muhammed Dahlan, former head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Forces.
Dahlan told the Golan that under different circumstances, they would try to kill each other. Instead, they became a strange couple, even being photographed together.
In recent years, Dahlan has become an adviser to the heir to the throne of the United Arab Emirates, Muhammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan (MBZ), the de facto ruler of the country. "The UAE took him in as their pitbull," said a former CIA agent about Dahlan.
Golan's team received $ 1.5 million a month, in addition to bonuses for successful assassinations. Every American fighter received $ 25,000 a month along with bonuses, but many refused to be hired killers in Yemen, according to Buzzfeed.
At the end of 2015, Golan and Gilmore managed to assemble a team of 12 mercenaries. Three of them were American reservists, and most of the others were former members of the French Foreign Legion.
They flew from the United Arab Emirates to a base in Eritrea, where—according to Gilmore—they received a hit list: 23 cards with 23 names and 23 faces. Each card contained intelligence information: the individual’s role in Yemenite politics, and the exact location of his home and offices. Some of them were terrorists, but Gilmore admits he is not sure if they all were.
According to Golan, the targets were legitimate targets that were chosen by the UAE government, an ally of the United States involved in a war that Washington supports.
However, Gilmore admitted that “there is the possibility that the target would be someone who MBZ doesn’t like. We’d try to make sure that didn’t happen.”
Failed assassination of Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood leader
The primary assassination target was Anssaf Ali Mayo, head of the Yemenite branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, but it failed.
Just before the mercenaries reached the front door of Mayo's office carrying the bomb that was supposed to kill him, one of the men on the team opened fire from the vehicle. Even with the drone footage of the incident it is hard to understand what exactly transpired. In any event, the mercenaries made their escape in a UAE military vehicle.
Then there was an explosion—that of the huge bomb planted at the entrance to the offices—followed by a larger explosion in the mercenary’s vehicle. Gilmore and Golan said they had booby-trapped their vehicle in order to disguise the source of the bomb and confuse the enemy, but the crew returned to the base without any proof that Mayo was dead.
"It caused problems with Dahlan," recalls Gilmore.
Mayo then disappeared for a long time, but he has since then reappeared.
The military campaign in Yemen is ongoing and the team’s assassinations continued, but since then almost three years have passed and Gilmore claims he is no longer in the assassination business.